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Occupy Wall Street, the 99 percent?

October 4, 2011
Wall Street Sign. Author: Ramy Majouji

Image via Wikipedia

The “Occupy Wall Street” movement, begun over two weeks ago in New York is gaining more attention, and spreading to other cities.

Reaction so far has been mixed, as has the level of coverage given to the protesters. Their longevity has forced people throughout the spectrum to take a closer, more thorough look at the Occupy Wall Street movement and draw some conclusion, or provide some analysis of the movement.

One thing that should be clear is that these protests should not be met with violence by the police, because it is not right, it infringes on the First Amendment Rights of the protesters, and because it allows the violence to become the focus rather than whatever message the protesters are trying to send, however incoherent it might be.

While they have been there for too long to have absolutely no coverage of them, there is not yet enough substance to the protests to be able to draw any conclusions, either supporting or condemning the Occupiers.  This has not prevented premature defenders or attackers from emerging across the political spectrum, and Anthony Gregory aptly articulates this phenomenon:

In light of such a spectacle, those who highly value the role of ideas in social change are tempted to root for one side or the other. They wish to see their own ideology reflected in prominent people and institutions, and in any clash it is tempting to seek a hero. It is no fun to be neutral when history is being made.

Some who see the protesters as a bunch of whiny young leftists opposing the great symbols of American capitalism will be tempted circumstantially to side with Wall Street

It is entirely too soon to be able to make any definitive statements about the protest, the message is too vague, dissipated and in some places, incoherent to warrant a serious reaction one way or the other.  This vagueness could in part be because this movement is the manifestation of simmering and inchoate anger at the current state of things, and that the movement is still in its nascent form and perhaps their message and demands will become more focused and coherent with time. For now, the protesters for the most part are condemning the status quo, without having a real conception of what steps to take going forward. They know they are dissatisfied with that way things are, but not really what they want, other than change.

The protestors have released a General Assemblies statement, not a list of demands, but of grievances and perhaps looking at it will give some degree of insight into what drives this movement, and where it could be poised to go next.

They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage.

They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses.

They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.

They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.

They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless nonhuman animals, and actively hide these practices.

They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions.

They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right.

They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers’ healthcare and pay.

They have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people, with none of the culpability or responsibility.

They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams that look for ways to get them out of contracts in regards to health insurance.

They have sold our privacy as a commodity.

They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press.

They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products endangering lives in pursuit of profit.

They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.

They have donated large sums of money to politicians supposed to be regulating them.

They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil.

They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people’s lives in order to protect investments that have already turned a substantive profit.

They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit.

They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.

They have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners even when presented with serious doubts about their guilt.

They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad.

They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.

They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts.*

*These grievances are not all-inclusive.

Perhaps the vague and nebulous goals and grievances was a better strategy. When a movement is just beginning, and especially when it tries to portray itself as representing the people (in this case 99% of them) these kind of far-reaching, unfocused, and in some cases downright odd grievances, many of which have absolutely nothing to do with Wall Street, can do more harm than good. There are some very valid concerns that the protesters bring up, the vast majority of Americans view the collusion between the government and some firms on Wall Street as unjust and harmful to the average American by many. They have some reasoning behind some of the grievances, but other points on this list quickly whittle away whatever meaningful coalition of support their narrower, valid concerns about Wall Street would have.

Firstly, many of these points do not have much to do with Wall Street, so it becomes unclear exactly who this protest is directed against, but Wall Street has minimal involvement with weapons of mass destruction, the food supply, direct participation in the torture and murder of civilians, student loan debts or the mistreatment of nonhuman animals. This list is so incoherent, and at times off-putting in its combination of sharp accusation and vagueness, that the movement risks missing out on its potential substantive impact in terms of unfair collusion between some Wall Street firms and Washington. While the unfocused and at times vituperative language put forth by the group detracts from its message, the greatest factor diminishing its potential to make an impact is that it does not place any proportionate amount of blame at Washington’s feet. It does not stand to reason to be so incensed at the companies receiving the bailouts, and to completely disregard the entity giving them the bailouts. The focus of these protests is so squarely on corporations and Wall Street, the supposed face of what is wrong with the status quo for these Occupiers, that they fail to even recognize the man behind the curtain, the Wizard of Oz of this status quo, Washington.

There is an interesting aspect of this movement, the tumblr account where people can submit photos with a brief description of their story and why they identify with the movement. This tumblr is a microcosm of the movement itself. Some of the stories are poignant, and they bring up valid concerns from people fallen upon hard times through circumstance, but these are balanced by an equal number of submissions like this one. These submissions sap much of the validity, and the sympathy that much of the protest would garner because it comes across as entitled, whiny, and not really at all directed at Wall Street. There seems to be a lack of personal accountability, and a sense of entitlement and impatience underlying some of these posts. Take this girl for instance, it is hard to justify staying in school for seven years if your family cannot afford it, and her complaint’s target is vague at best. This is not to say that everyone affiliated with the movement is like this, but people such as this one detract from any credibility the movement could have.

The Occupy Wall Street protests fall into the trap of casting blame only at Wall Street in a narrow sense, but being dissatisfied with the status quo in a larger sense. Some of the aspects of Occupy Wall Street are legitimate, but about just much is not. As such, it is far to early to draw any definitive conclusions about it, we will all have to just see what happens next.

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