Saturday, October 08, 2011

'Occupy Wall Street' A Lightening Rod for Populist Discontent

Have you been following the Occupy Wall Street movement? No?

Since Sept. 17, hundreds and sometimes thousands of people have “occupied” Wall Street in New York (and other locations across the U.S.) to protest socioeconomic inequality and the influence of corporate lobbying on Washington politics, as well as a number of other social injustices. Mostly coordinated via social networking services like Twitter and Facebook without a central organizer, the flash-mob participants have since set up base in Zuccotti Park (Liberty Square) near Wall Street.

They call themselves the 99 percent. It is a peaceful protest.

“I can’t afford a lobbyist. I am the 99 percent.”

“People not profits.”

“How much do you owe?”

“We are not leaving, not while the richest 1% own 75% of USA’s wealth. Tax the rich.”

We are getting kicked out of our homes. We are forced to choose between groceries and rent. We are denied quality medical care. We are suffering from environmental pollution. We are working long hours for little pay and no rights, if we’re working at all. We are getting nothing while the other 1 percent is getting everything. We are the 99 percent.

It’s no surprise or secret that Wall Street’s influence over Washington led to the financial collapse of 2008. The real shock came after the collapse: Nothing was done. Nothing changed. Nothing.

“A president elected with the spirit of Louis Brandeis (“[We have to stop] Wall Street from taking enormous risks with ‘other people's money’”), who promised to “take up that fight” “to change the way Washington works,” (“for far too long, through both Democratic and Republican administrations, Washington has allowed Wall Street to use lobbyists and campaign contributions to rig the system and get its way, no matter what it costs ordinary Americans”), and who was handed a crisis (read: opportunity) and a supermajority in Congress to make real change, did nothing about this root to our financial collapse,” writes Lawrence Lessig, Roy L. Furman Professor of Law, Harvard Law School.

Lessig calls this “terrifying, given what it says about this democracy.”

Thoreau said “there are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil, to one who is striking at the root.”

These protesters are the one striking at the root, says Lessig. Corporatism is at the root of America’s financial woes. Corporatism is why so many are unemployed and underemployed. Corporatism is why so many have lost their homes. Corporatism is based on Wall Street.

On the website, people heading to Occupy Wall Street post photos and short statements about themselves. Here’s one young woman’s:

“I am lucky to have a steady job doing what I love. I live frugally and without debt. All of my friends are jobless or homeless or swimming in debt or all of the above… I wonder how long it will be before I join their ranks… and the government doesn’t care. We are the 99%. I want a government that puts people before corporate bottom lines.”

Here’s another: “I was laid off to be hired back as a contractor so the company wouldn’t have to pay health care insurance or payroll taxes. ‘It’s only temporary,’ they said … two years ago.”

Occupy Wall Street has no leaders. It is not partisan politics movement. It can’t be or it will alienate citizens who are in one accord. The Republicans and Democrats’ obsession with remaining in power, with campaigns funded by corporations, has caused this mess. Political groups, labor unions and celebrities are welcome to join their voices, but they must not co-opt the movement. In order to succeed, it must remain a populist movement.

Last week, participants of Occupy Wall Street wrote and voted to agree on a statement. Space prohibits me from quoting it all. Here’s a highlight:

“…a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and … no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power.”

And thus it concludes:

“We, the New York City General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert your power.

“Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone.

“To all communities that take action and form groups in the spirit of direct democracy, we offer support, documentation, and all of the resources at our disposal.

“Join us and make your voices heard!”

We really are the 99 percent.

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