Is “Occupy Wall Street” a meaningful protest?

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Andrew Rhodes: Occupy Wall Street is incoherent

We are the 99 percent. That’s the message of Occupy Wall Street. Thousands of individuals are currently camped out on Wall Street, and the protest has sparked imitators in over 70 cities. Over 700 people have already been arrested so far.

What are they are angry about? The message is one of resentment at corporate greed when everyone else is suffering. They are angry at the $700 billion dollar bailout which the US government gave to leading banks to prevent the collapse of the world economy. They are angry there is no remorse among those they see as responsible for the recession.

What are their demands? This part is less clear. Some slogans appear like “no more bailouts”. Other demands are a mixture of unconnected things. There’s a viral video going round the internet of an Occupy Wall Street protestor calling for the end of the Federal Reserve, and a return to the gold standard. I asked a group of people involved in the Occupy the London Stock Exchange protests, what they want to change. In addition to the predictable “End capitalism” there were demands to bring back the gold standard, leave the EU and end corporate personhood. They lack a real plan for political change. They are angry at the status quo, but without a coherent alternative.

Rejecting established political processes means few options for implementing changes they want. To compare, two years ago, the Tea Party were a group of angry white men. Only when their focus shifted into electoral politics, winning control of Congress with Tea Party backed Republican candidates, and later Tea Party courting presidential nominees, did anyone take notice. The Occupy Wall Street protests seem intent on painting the political system as corrupt, with politicians in the pockets of big business. This may be true, but if you want financial reform, being angry and showing up isn’t enough. You have to pass laws, meaning a political party willing to put those laws into place.

The “Occupy” protestors have legitimate grievances at a time when everyone is suffering except the financial sector. But unless they can translate these grievances into proposals for reform, and find political parties willing to push for such reforms, they risk being ignored.

– Andrew Rhodes

April Pierce: Occupy Wall Street highlights very real problems

Wall Street profits increased by 720% between 2007-2009. At the same time, unemployment in the US increased by 102%, and home equity dropped by a startling 35%. The divide between the wealthy and the working class has been repeatedly endorsed by the organizers of Occupy Wall Street as the central theme of its public protests.

Income disparity has long been a source of quiet frustration in the United States, and this disparity has been exacerbated by the irresponsible and politically unchecked lending patterns of banks, which have lead to financial ruin and job loss for thousands of families over the last five years. But perhaps income disparity alone is not enough to explain the OWS movement. It is not just that banks have wildly lent and then withheld funds from businesses; nobody has held them responsible for their errors. Campaign finance corruption, lobbying corruption, and political trepidation concerning financial reform can all be blamed as detrimental to the health of the middle class in America.

When a protestor says “money is not speech” or “we are the 99%” their message may be targeted at “the system” but maybe that’s precisely where the problem is. Recent policy debates about corporate personhood and union rights highlight a growing concern that government is no longer a reliable avenue between the average working citizen and the resources they need to represent or even sustain themselves. Despite campaigning on the idea of political transparency and lobbying curtailment, the Obama administration has not made good on these original promises. Government, in fact, continues to rely heavily on corporate profit to finance political success.

Looking at the specific causes of income disparity, influential political and legal figures have already started to tackle the possibility of constitutional or finance reform to help bolster an ailing middle class. Lawrence Lessig, a progressive left-leaning Harvard law professor and Mark Meckler, one of the founders of the Tea Party movement, have met publicly to consider the possibility of a Constitutional Convention. Clinton’s Global Initiative has begun addressing the concern that banks are not lending despite profits. The Obama administration has recognized the concerns of the protestors as valid.

Though the measurable outcomes of the OWS movement have yet to be seen, their presence is not without significant political consequence, and their message is relevant and necessary.

-April Pierce

PHOTO/David Shankbone

 

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