Occupy Wall Street is a progressive ideological social movement that is gaining strength in numbers in spite of increasing clashes with police and bad weather. Originating in September of 2011, the movement was initially designed as a popular occupation of 20,000 people targeting Wall Street, New York. The movement has now gone viral – and global. Protests spread quickly across America in a brushfire of dissidence, with similar protests springing up in cities across the globe. The uniting thread? Solidarity against corporate greed and inequality. But can this movement bring about the change the occupiers desire?
America is now widely recognised as a corporatocracy, now challenged by an increasingly informed and disenchanted citizenry thought to comprise all but the wealthiest one per cent of the American population. Last year a Supreme Court ruling rejected corporate spending limits on campaigning, further disenfranchising a nation that already largely fails to turn out for elections. Some still argue that voting is the appropriate democratic means of voicing one’s opinion, but the implications of corporate control over politicians and election outcomes are severe. Corporations can, without limit, effectively outbuy, outspeak and therefore outvote the general public in the current so-called American ‘democracy’ (it’s a Republic, actually). It is worthwhile to note that most of the American (as well as global) media is privately owned and controlled by corporate entities, which is how the majority of the public receives its information.
The protesters are collectively known as the 99 Percent. They are the people for whom the vast wealth presumed to be generated by Reaganomics – that is, through widespread tax cuts (especially for the wealthy), decreased social spending, increased military spending (to thereby stimulate war mongering?), and deregulation of domestic markets – did not ‘trickle down’. We all know the constituents comprising the 99 per cent – they are our local service workers, our labourers, our soldiers, our brothers, sisters, parents and cousins – perhaps most readers here ARE the 99 per cent, as am I. Only the most privileged elite are excluded, and they are now being asked to answer for their excessive wealth and greed as protesters seek them out – at their homes, their workplaces, and through social media outlets – in their quest for justice and some semblance of equality. For an insightful and honest perspective from an Oakland Occupier, see How the Livestream Ended: How I got off my computer and onto the street at Occupy Oakland.
The question that so many people are asking, though, is what this occupation is accomplishing. What so many want to know is: what exactly do they want? Why are they protesting against corporations when they themselves use their products and services? America Votes President Joan Fitz-Gerald emphasises in the Huffington Post that public investment in people has resulted in many of the country’s greatest assets and achievements. She attempts to speak towards the aims and positions of the occupiers of Wall Street and beyond, the disempowered underclass: their distaste for corporate greed, their disagreement with low taxation of the wealthiest Americans, the inequity of requiring the poorest to repay high levels of debt in student loans for universities and community colleges whose tuitions are continuously increasing due to budget cuts, and their disgust towards unaffordable mortgages for homes that have lost their value. It certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed that the fat-cats of the big banks are enjoying record profits, bailouts and bonuses at their expense. Is it a wonder people are so angry?
The planners of this movement were wise to centre their initial protests at the symbolic heart of the corporate machine, Wall Street. But, who has ultimately given the corporations the power they now wield? It is WE the thoroughly addicted consumers who support them, dependent on our flat screen TVs, cars, cigarettes, clothing, and computers. It is we who give the corporations the incentive to do what they do. I don’t believe that anyone, not even the occupiers, would care to detach from their dependence on corporate products and services. More importantly, misguided government policy leading to and guided by corporate favouritism has contributed to unacceptably high levels of inequality. Perhaps it is not necessarily the corporations which need to make changes, but the government.
The protesters are challenging inequality. Given the aims of the protesters as stated above by Fitz-Gerald, I think a look at the salaries of US Congress people (America’s ‘public servants’) is appropriate. It is reported that the average salary of US congress people is at $174,000 per year. In 2011, this was earned in 140 days of work, resulting in pay nearing $1245 per day of session! Anyone paid that well should surely produce results, right? Wrong. US Congress sits in perpetual stalemate thanks to incessant, distasteful bipartisan politics, having thereby caused approval ratings to plummet. Corporations on the other hand, while well paid, consistently produce and deliver. I don’t believe that can be said for the US Congress at present.
In recent months, President Barack Obama has been risking his political future by proposing long-term strategies which will stretch far beyond his term in office. This has been referred to as ‘political suicide’ by members of congress and the media. But finally, a politician is thinking beyond his or her own career! If the US government doesn’t soon step up to limit corporate control of the country, ‘Democracy’ may soon be declared history.
Agree or disagree, you have to give the protesters kudos for holding out for so long, in spite of hardship. Some have vowed their commitment to the cause, reporting to stay put until the 2012 Presidential elections. This is apparently far greater commitment to justice than can be asked from US Congress.