The Occupy Wall Street movement is beginning to win hearts and minds in the midst of the very area it is occupying.
Amongst the zombie facepaint and the neo-hippies massing at the off-grid settlement in Zuccotti Park near Wall Street are an increasing number of financial workers themselves. One elegantly dressed woman this week was carrying a sign that said “Wall Street workers for realistic fiscal reform – there are more of us than you think.”
And at sites all over America, OWS is attracting support from all walks of life — recently laid-off blue collar workers to students to highly-paid execs in non-financial industries who are just as angry as the rest of us about the way the banking industry has laid waste to the real economy.
The point that the mainstream US media has missed in its obsequious haste to criticize the occupation for not having any clear “demands” or a sophisticated analysis of the financiers, is that the space itself is very much its own demand, a demand for a new kind of society set up provocatively in the uncaring shadow of Wall Street, the symbolic heart of free-market capitalism.
“I’m here to learn about how to build a new community,” says Max, a carpenter from upstate New York. “We’ve essentially built a little town right in the middle of Wall Street where people are fed, clothed, housed, taken care of.”
Now the message has spread across the land and the next few weeks will be mesmerizing. A “Declaration of the Occupation of New York City” summons all those who feel “wronged by the corporate forces of the world”. Corporations “place profit over people”, “run our governments”, take bail-outs “with impunity”, poison the food supply, block green energy, “perpetuate colonialism at home and abroad”, muzzle the media and use student loans to “hold students hostage”. The protests have already spread
to Los Angeles, Boston and Chicago, and were this week heading towards the nation’s capital.
Hundreds of protesters on Thursday afternoon converged in front of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the most influential lobbying group in Washington D.C., Under the huge banner hanging overhead that says “JOBS.” But their question, ironically, is “where are the jobs?”
With shouts of “Where are the jobs,” protesters displayed ten foot long signs that says “Corporate Greed,” and some of them pointed at curious Chamber employees who peek out of first floor windows, hollering “Shame on you!”
Back in New York, the atmosphere at Zuccotti Park is uniquely welcoming. As a typical October night draws in and the rain begins to beat down, the medical centre, offers warm coats and hot coffee, medicine and a hug: a far cry from the pitilessness of Main Street America.
“My whole generation has kind of been conditioned to believe that we don’t have a voice, we don’t have the ability to change anything,” says Max. “It’s cool to believe again.”
But believe in what? Now the fire has been lit, the real work starts. What are the demands of the movement exactly? How will the Occupiers ensure their voice is heard all the way up to the 2012 election day?
A centrepiece of the Dodd-Frank financial reforms signed into law last year was a Consumer Financial Protection Agency to guard against unfair fees and predatory lending. It was set up by Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard professor, who was also expected to be its first director.
At the urging of Wall Street lobbyists, Congress has blocked her appointment.
Clear policies and clear slogans are needed. The first priority is to work out exactly who the enemy is and what we want from them. A total of 79 per cent of Americans agree with the Occupy Wall Street slogan: “The big banks got bailed out, while we got left behind,” according to a new poll.
This writer is certain that the large majority of senior executives in the financial sector should be arrested, questioned under caution, and in many cases imprisoned for fraud and other acts of malfeasance.
The huge bonuses they paid themselves over the past decade, based on falsely declared profits, should be repaid to the institutions they looted.
That would solve the problem of recapitalizing the banks and insurers.
Not since crowds laid waste to central Seattle when the World Trade Organisation met there 12 years ago has capitalism faced such a direct rebuke on the streets of North America.
The slogan is: PAY IT BACK. The moment is now.
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