The nearly two week occupation of a New York park near Wall Street known as Occupy Wall Street, initially undertaken by a few, has grown into a significant mobilization of people. The action should not have to be anything more than what it is at face value. The presence of hundreds if not thousands of Americans confronting a beast, whose greed, recklessness and illegal acts resulted in the collapse of the US economy, should not be something Americans show cynicism toward. Yet, some of the most politically engaged individuals are timid when it comes to the opening hundreds of young Americans have created.
A crowd has watched Occupy Wall Street pick up steam and grow in its power yet they continue to gripe about the occupation’s lack of one unified message. The message, however, is obvious: it is time for Americans to rise up and take on the injustices perpetrated and perpetuated by Wall Street. It is time to take on the culture of greed and corporate domination.
In an evolving document titled, “Declaration of the Occupation of New York City,” organizers recently declared:
As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies. As one people, formerly divided by the color of our skin, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or lack thereof, political party and cultural background, we acknowledge the reality: that there is only one race, the human race, and our survival requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their brethren; that 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 that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.
Wall Street is America’s chief symbol of profits over people, self-interest over justice and of concentrated wealth over democracy. While millions of Americans struggle to find jobs, prevent banks from taking their homes, keep up with payments for student loans and get by on the minimal jobless benefits and welfare the government is willing to grant its citizens, Wall Street shoulders no burden. It enjoys millions of dollars in tax breaks each year. The corporations on Wall Street give executives bonuses that are grotesquely high, sometimes more than $10 million. Big banks are able to give their most senior executives these bonuses because the US government bailed them out through TARP in 2008.
Do “politically savvy” individuals really think a unified message would make the protest action better? Supposing they did line up behind a single bill or single action like, “Jobs Now,” would that really have produced the kind of mobilization of Americans that has taken shape?
Bumper sticker sloganeering has lost. Progressive and liberal groups have spent years crafting carefully engineered plans for making a dent in the corporate culture of America that has turned many aspects of society rotten. They have sat and considered what was “possible” in the system and lowered their sights. They have set the bar low for achievements and signed on to legislation with titles that would lead one to hope things would get better so long as they ignored the fine print in the legislation. They have failed to address the issue of money in politics for years. They have played the rigged game, participated in a broken electoral system that is now controlled by Wall Street and other powerful corporate and special interests and they have not acted upon the truth, which is that no matter who is put in the White House that administration will become a slave to dominant bureaucracies and corporations.
Some find it hard to support Occupy Wall Street because they are using the “General Assembly” process. The General Assembly is participatory democracy in action, with Americans involved in occupying Wall Street coming together to deliberate over how to maximize the impact of the occupation, how to reach out to unions and community groups that should be involved, how to produce or reach media, when to march, what kinds of actions to take, whether to engage in civil disobedience or not, how to respond to police conduct, what the occupation can coalesce behind and support and what sort of solutions they want to promote so society can become less controlled by dominant corporate forces like those on Wall Street.
The General Assembly gives American citizens a platform for sharing what they think needs to be urgently addressed in society. It offers Americans the opportunity to take ownership and responsibility in a way that representatives, senators and White House staff typically do not encourage because it would make it harder for them to be subservient to corporate and special interests.
There are those who claim the protest is just noise. They do not see any element of the protest having gravity in Americans’ lives. Phoniness and willful ignorance forms the basis for this argument.
A long-term protest by “dirty hippies” in a New York Park near Wall Street would not be growing in size by the day if it weren’t for the fact that Americans see how so many Americans have been exploited and fallen victim to Wall Street and corporate power. A major union like the New York Local 1 Transit Workers Union would not be endorsing the action if they didn’t see it having gravity.
This Tumblr called “We Are the 99 Percent” poignantly shows the anguish and despair of Americans and why people are finding hope thanks to those participating in Occupy Wall Street. Here are but a few examples:
If that doesn’t convince you the protesters have connected with poor, working class and middle class Americans, people who are “Main Street” Americans, here’s a 9/11 first responder telling his story about “working for the system” and getting “screwed.”
Under the mask and the glasses is a construction worker who was at the World Trade Center site the first week that towers came down. I voluntarily, on my own, side by side with the FDNY , NYPD and Port Authority officers dug side by side with them using our tools, our dump trucks, our cranes, our pick axes, our chain blocks, our oxyacetylene tanks to burn the steel, side by side with them as a First Responder. Ten years later, I can’t get disability for that. I can’t get workers’ compensation. I was diagnosed with Stage 2 auto immune disease called sarcoidosis.
The timidity of those who pay attention to politics has to do with reservations or utter disdain for protest. They are intent on judging fellow citizens who are taking on Wall Street greed and corruption. Would these people have told slaves fighting for emancipation that they needed to find a better slogan to support or else they would never be free? Would they have told women if you want the right to vote you may have to all wear the same upper class looking dress or they would never be equal? Would they have urged African Americans to not boycott buses or go on marches because it wasn’t clear how government would respond to their grievances?
Now, citizens rise up against economic slavery and they are supposed to get an education in public relations to win their support? The occupiers should not have to explain why they are out there better. The critics should have to explain what is holding them back from being a part of what is unfolding.
Americans protesting could admit they committed errors and leave the streets now. The occupation could shut down. All those who have donated money and goods to sustain the protest could be let down severely. Unions just beginning to take notice would wonder what had just happened. And as the people appeared to return to being tranquil and passive in the face of mass economic injustice, the corporations would have a clear playing field to deploy groups like the Tea Party, their shock troops for further dismantling America’s social safety net and helping corporations achieve more of a strangehold on this country.
The presence of Occupy Wall Street gives Americans the possibilities for change that were non-existent and unreasonable when the media suggested the Tea Party were the only people protesting. For example, getting money out of politics may happen because lawmakers want to defuse an uprising. And, if that were to happen, a celebrity or well-known pundit wouldn’t be responsible, a think tank or progressive interest group wouldn’t be responsible but the mobilization sparked by Occupy Wall Street would be responsible for awakening the consciousness of America and creating the climate for radical change.
Like the late people’s historian Howard Zinn said, “We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.” Occupy Wall Street is one small act, a beginning and not an end, a possibly imperfect act that is righteously inspiring a morally justified rebellion.
People are finding they must have self-respect. They are becoming confident. They are rising up to transform the world. One can gripe and be seen as hesitant in the face of inequality and injustice or they can join the struggle and be part of forging a better world.