Reflections on the Occupy movement

Yesterday marks a month ago that the Occupy Wall Street movement began. Modeled after the protests of what’s become known as the Arab spring, it seems to have taken its start from a Twitter post on July13 that slowly gathered interest via other Twitter posts and with numbers, momentum, spreading to other large American cities and, lately, to other parts of the world, particularly Europe. It remains a social media-driven phenomenon. One of its oddities is that it was initially fueled by environmentalists and organic food enthusiasts, among them vegans rather than by the Left. I’m one of those, so from the beginning, I have liked this movement.

As I see it, it’s primarily kindled by resentment that the wealthy along with corporations don’t pay their fair share of taxes and that the banks continue in their public-be-damned parochialism. As such, the movement claims to represent the 99.1 of us denied a place at the table.

One of its oddities is the lack of defined goals amidst a motley of mindsets ranging from far Left to Libertarians, including Tea Party advocates who share an antipathy towards banks, though not corporations, per se. As a whole, however, the occupiers see government as needing reform rather than dismantling.

This movement reminds me of the protests concurrent with the Vietnam War back in the 60s and early 70s, composed largely of young people. This comes as a surprise, as the present generation has been vastly silent, though not so in Europe and North Africa. But “the times are a changing,” given our economic doldrums, the worst since the Great Depression, with a stagnant 9.1 percent unemployed, a figure much higher among young people and minorities. In supposedly one of the richest nations in the world, growing poverty now engulfs more than 20% of our population. In some of our cities, nearly 40% of Blacks and Hispanic under 24 can’t find jobs. This is social dynamite that could escalate into the race riots we saw in the 60s.

Meanwhile, it’s business as usual on Wall Street. The banks that perpetrated our economic downturn, bursting the bubble their speculative greed had created, were
bailed out with huge cash infusions by the government, beginning with Bush but vastly accelerated under Obama. Our national indebtedness consequently has swelled, threatening to turn America into a Greece, Italy, or Ireland, unable to pay its bills. In an effort to keep the steam engine from derailing, we now see austerity measures, both local and national, exacerbating the job crisis. Meanwhile, there’s the continuing rampage of globalization with its consequence of out-sourced-jobs.

Fighting two questionable wars doesn’t help either, diverting huge sources of capital that are vitally needed to rekindle confidence in the economy, leading to job growth through increased consumer spending. You don’t make things better by laying off teachers, police and fire fighters, curtailing libraries, and closing parks.

The banks, of course, haven’t mended their ways. To get around some scrutiny measures recently passed by Congress, the banks have cunningly found ways to circumvent, inventing new income sources through initiating higher interest, fees, and restricted borrowing. Few couples have the 20% down payment required for most mortgage loans, crippling the housing industry which along with car sales, provides key impetus in encouraging a robust economy. The obscenity of huge CEO bonuses continues. Concurrently, they’ve gotten their paper work together and are now foreclosing on delinquent mortgages at a blitzkrieg pace. In short, it’s business as usual, the public be screwed.

Actually, there’s been this gargantuan transfer of wealth going on for some time, with the middle class its victims. The rich don’t pay their fair share of taxes, yet some 37% of Americans don’t pay any tax whatsoever, buttressed by numerous exemptions. It’s a vast simplicity to put all the blame on the wealthy. In fact, this poses one of the dangers for the Occupy movement: that it simply becomes a self-pitying indulgence in envy, rather than meaningful effort to ameliorate; a dangerous wedge masquerading class warfare.

This, of course, may hint at two other dangers, the offshoot of opportunists:

1. That the movement will become politicized by a political party and/or trade unions. This would dilute the movement’s effectiveness as a voice for the people. If anything, we need a third party, say a Green Party. Appropriately, most interviewed participants are suspicious of both major parties. No party should have us in its hip pocket and commit identity theft to advance its own agenda.

2. That the anarchist and Marxist spectrums will infiltrate and nullify through calculated violence such as we saw in Rome last week as hooded, masked street toughs burned and looted. I still believe in a market economy, with safety nets in place.

I am for this protest, though I wish it had a third party corpus. Romanticism can be a beautiful thing, but it needs boots on the ground. As is, I fear that come winter’s icy wind and falling snow, the movement will lapse into memory.

Author: RJ

Retired English prof (Ph. D., UNC), who likes to garden, blog, pursue languages (especially Spanish) and to share in serious discussion on vital issues such as global warming, the role of government, energy alternatives, etc. Am a vegan and, yes, a tree hugger enthusiastically. If you write me, I'll answer.

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