My generation has been largely deceived. We let the power of the few take control, out of irrational fear, following the post 9/11, war on terror, world. Because of our own choices, the Wall Street elite were able to take advantage of the people of the world, and now hold most of the money in the United States, at the expense of the rest. Of course, this elaborate crime against the American people, as well as the people of the world, could not have been so brilliantly executed without the help and support of the United States government, and few other central characters. The Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011 is the culmination of the anger my generation feels towards the thievery that has been pinned upon us. Although the movements are greatly misinterpreted, and criticized by all sides of the political spectrum, they continue to grow, and in the future, may become the defining achievement of my generation. To quote one anonymous picket sign: “now is when we take the power back”.
These movements are vastly misunderstood. And although the direct causes of the protests are somewhat difficult to explain and seemingly difficult to comprehend, the understanding of a few central precursors is integral to understanding the Occupy movement as a whole. As one may easily deduce from very little research on the subject, the general anger is driven from the economic crisis strangling the United States. To make a very long, very complex story incredibly short, the current economic crisis can be linked to the failing of large corporations including, but not limited to: Fannie Mae, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, AIG (on multiple occasions), Citigroup, General Motors ,The Bear Stearns Company, Bank of America, and many others (FDIC). Although, this may not be alarming at first sight- a company filing for bankruptcy is part of the life cycle of corporations in Capitalism. However, because the world economy has become increasingly interconnected, these companies were saved, by taxpayer money, under the banner “too big to fail”. This means that, their failure would have huge negative ramifications throughout the economy of the entire world, and thus they were “bailed out”, either by the government (i.e., taxpayers), or given bridge loans from other investors; the equivalent of being bought out (Inside Job). This resulted in an unprecedented amount of bank mergers (FDIC). A culmination of wealth to one central entity, meant increased profitability, but also meant an inheritance of debt. To protect investors from buying into companies that may be failing past the point of recovery and are thus unprofitable, banks issue what is known as a credit rating on other potential investments. However, the irony of this is of course that the banks themselves make the credit rating, so across the board we can see that only days prior to the failure of huge companies such as Goldman Sachs, and JP Morgan, among others, they had AAA credit ratings, the highest possible rating (Inside Job). It would be foolish to assume that the companies that are in the merging sector were unaware of this deception, but what Wall Street protestors, as well as a few political entities propose is that CEO’s of these companies were well aware of their actions, but continued with them anyway, for personal profit. For example, Henry Paulson, the Secretary of Treasury under George W. Bush, held a previous position before his work for the government: he was the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Goldman Sachs. Of course this is not the only time we see a business man becoming a political figure, especially under George W. Bush. Prior to Bush’s 2000 election, Vice President Dick Cheney was the CEO of Haliburton, the world’s second largest oilfield service corporation. Of course, with his election to Vice President in 2000, Cheney retired form Haliburton, receiving a personal package estimated at $20 million (New York Times August 12, 2000).
In the following years, these few key corporations and banks made an unprecedented amount of sub-prime loans. Sub-Prime loans are known as loans that people will have difficulty maintaining. Because of that difficulty, these loans are held with a very high interest rate, and compensate for higher credit risk (Investopedia). Many protestors, as well as politicians and economists worldwide, argue that the banks knew exactly the risk that they were taking when signing these sub-prime loans, which culminated into the billions of dollars (some sources speculate trillions, but the real amounts are unknown). However, although these loans had yet to be paid back and in hindsight, probably never would be, the companies still counted the fictional money as potential profit for their corporation. Of course, if the company is making more money, so are the people running it, and eventually this fictional currency found its way into the pockets of the chief executive officers of those companies.
Of course, this system, or “bubble” as its referred to in economic terms, could not have possibly lasted very long and as was later seen, it failed. The bubble popped, and the companies went bankrupt. However, the sub-prime loans that were dispersed among the American people had been sold off, mainly in bank mergers, and split between different entities, making them difficult and often impossible, to track. As a result, the market crashed, and so did the companies at the top of it. When these corporations went bankrupt, they toted the popular Wall Street Slogan once more of “too big to fail” and the United States government bailed them out, with taxpayer money. But, “it is a historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily,” and while the American people were forced to pay for the bailouts, the pockets of the CEO’s of these major corporations only got bigger (King 207). Eventually the anger perpetuated and gave rise to the Occupy Movements we see today. However, the fall of the market happened mainly in 2008, and yet the protests as one may know them now, did not start until late 2011. The reason for this, is because there was still one ingredient missing in the stew of civil disobedience; and this ingredient has become known as the Arab Spring.
The Arab Spring began in Tunisia and Egypt in December of 2010. They quickly spread to Libya, Bahrain, Syria, and eventually the protests engulfed most of North Africa and the Middle East. In a world that has become increasingly global, we see that these demonstrations gained popular support in the United States, generally through forms of social networking like Facebook and Twitter. It is safe to say that most of the countries involved in the revolution were some of the most oppressed countries in the world, ran by tyrannical leaders deemed “unfit to govern a free people”, such as the Mubarak regime in Egypt, or Ghadaffi in Libya and now Al-Asaad in Syria (Jefferson 192). “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it is demanded by the oppressed,” and within months of the start of the revolution Mubarak fled Cairo, and not more than two weeks ago, Ghadaffi was murdered in the street, after fighting a nine month civil war with his country (King 207). Although many critics would say that the revolutions have somewhat failed thus far, the American people generally saw this as a victory of oppressed people, who stood up to tyrannical governments. History shows that “whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly,” so it is no doubt that these success stories influenced the American people to stand up to their own system of tyranny: Wall Street (King 204).
These few ingredients cooked into what is now considered the biggest protest movement since the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s (Obama). The Occupy Movements began with the famous Occupy Wall Street movement on September 16, 2011, when then only hundreds of protestors flooded Zuccotti park, and dubbed it “Liberty Park”. The organization of the initial demonstration is credited to a webzine called Adbusters, who’s “one simple demand” was “a presidential commission to separate money from politics” in order to “set the agenda for a new America” (Adbusters). According to the Washington Post, by October 9, 2011, similar “occupy” demonstrations had been held in seventy of the major U.S. cities, 700 communities, and over 900 cities worldwide (Washington Post Oct. 15, 2011). As of the time this essay was written, the Occupy Movements are on day fifty- four, and show no signs of stopping.
While the initial slogans of the Occupy Movements may sound enticing to anyone, wealthy or not, much of the country is still somewhat divided on the issue, as it often is regarding any issue that challenges public opinion. In order to better understand the movement and what it means, one must not “rest content with the the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects, and does not grapple with underlying causes” (King 204). One must first take an unbiased look at the positive and negative aspects on both sides of the spectrum to understand where they might sit when the ship of neutrality sinks.
First, some simple demographics: who supports the movement? According to a survey conducted by Baruch College professor Hector R. Cordero-Guzman and business analyst Harrison Schultz, and reported by The Week magazine on October 20, 2011, 64% are under the age of 35, while 20% are over the age of 45. Only 15% of the demonstrators are unemployed, and most of them deem that their unemployment is the cause of the economic failure. 27.3% are democrats, 2.4% are republican, and although 56% voted in the last election, 70% of the demonstrators do not affiliate with any political party; showing that the people are becoming increasingly detached from their government. The most striking of this data comes from the question about the movement’s goals, since this is one of the key areas of criticism held to the movement. According to a different survey conducted by veteran pollster Douglas Schoen, when asked “what frustrates you the most about the political process of the United States, only 6% said “income equality”, while 3% said “the capitalist system”, but an overwhelming 30% said “influence of corporate money and special interests”. Many researchers to this day, myself included, falsely believed that the overall goals of the movement consist of some form of radical redistribution of wealth, but according to surveys, only 4% support that notion, while 35% say that they hope to achieve “influence over the democratic party, the same way that the Tea Party influenced the GOP” (the GOP stands for “the Grand Old Party”- referring to the republican party). In other words, the overwhelming majority still stick to the initial plan of “a presidential commission to separate money from politics” (Adbusters). It is important to note that although these surveys were indeed conducted on thousands of people, they were conducted only in New York City, at the beginning of the movement. Currently they may not reflect the entirety of protestors throughout the world, who may have slightly different goals or motives in the light of more recent events.
Who does not support the movement? For the most part, many of the critics see themselves as conservative, allied to the Republican party. This is certainly not to say that there are not affiliates of both parties on either side of the issue. The Wall Street Journal has a long history of criticizing the movement since the beginning, and generally puts most of the blame on President Obama, but the criticism is not ill-informed. Of course, major CEO’s and economists are also against the movement, and rightfully criticize the movement for two main reasons. The first of which, is that protestors lack a cohesive goal that they wish to achieve. The second criticism non supporters are quick to point out, is the lacking of a general leader, or some sort of leadership committee. Most protestors should agree that in the early days of the movement, these criticisms were just, however, possibly because of the weight of these concerns, the ever changing face of the Occupy Movement has taken on a new look, and the protestors have become much more organized in the execution of their plan.
As has been pointed out, one main problem of the Occupy Movement, laid out by critics such as The Wall Street Journal, is the lack of one true goal. It is true, that there are many different possible outcomes for the movement, and different protestors tend to hold different opinions of the central problem they are protesting; but simply by reciting the now famous slogan, “we are the 99%” one can see now the more permanent face the revolution has taken on. Although “we are the 99%” may have slightly different impacts on different people, the overall message is that the “99%” refers to the common man. In recent years, according to Occupy ideology, the common man has had his wealth, and quality of life stripped away from him by the elusive 1%, or otherwise known as the Wall Street Elite. Of course, one person getting rich, is not what protestors are against, and I think sometimes critics are quick to overlook that. Getting rich is part of the American dream, and the Capitalistic way of life. The central problem is that this “1%” is now interwoven into the United States government, where they use their wealth to serve special interests, and at the expense of the people, gain more wealth and even more power. When we say “by the expense of the people” what we refer to is that the money in the United States, speculated by various sources to be in the billions, (some say even trillions) is being coddled by only a few people (The Wall Street Elite). This of course prevents the money from being evenly dispersed, and gives a truth to the root of the Occupy “99%” slogan which is: “99% of the wealth belongs to 1%” of the population”.
Many researchers, myself included, find this slogan incredibly ironic, and actually according to studies, it is completely false when referring to a global scale. According to studies performed by the U.N., 99% of the wealth in the world is actually not held by the top 1%, but by the top 10%. The top richest 1%, according to the U.N., only holds 40% of the worlds wealth, and the top 2% own a little over half. The irony though is the fact that the top 15% of the wealthiest people in the world are characterized by having running water readily available, and if you are fortunate enough to live in the United States, you are already in that 15%. If you live in the U.S. and make more than three dollars a day, you are in the top 2% of the entire world. Perhaps its time Occupy finds a new slogan.
The second major criticism of non supporters is Occupy’s lack of a cohesive leader. When referring to any American revolution in the past, that is widely considered as successful, there has always been one, or a few, influential leaders. For example, the American Revolution itself, had leaders like Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington, among others; and the Civil Rights Movement had Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X, among others. However, the Occupy Movement; although it has a few committees to organize events, and a few influential public speakers, is for the most part leaderless. Protestors argue though, that this is misinterpreted as a weakness, but is actually not only a strength, but the essence of the movement altogether. Protestors generally argue that having a leader would be detrimental to the movement as a whole, because the protests are designed to speak out for the voice of the people as a whole. To quote another anonymous picket sign, “we do not want people leading us anymore”. Leadership influences false representation, and that is one of the main things the Occupy movement is trying to abolish.
The other type of criticism the movement has received, mainly by New York officials, is on the issue of sanitation in the makeshift campground. However because many of the protesters are strict environmentalists, this has not turned into a serious problem, since the protestors mainly take sanitary concerns into their own hands, and tend to do a great job (Mayor Bloomberg, Manhattan Daily News).
It is very hard to keep myself at an unbiased level when talking about the protests, because they are standing up for me personally. So long as you are not the relentless top 1% of the worlds economy, they are standing up for you too. When protestors at Occupy Oakland, seized the Oakland port, one truck driver while sitting on his truck with fellow supporters, was asked by the media “are you not angry at the protests? They are sitting on your truck, and as a result you will be late to your destination; its going to throw off your whole day”. The man replied: “how can i possibly be mad at these people? They are standing up for me.” I think that this is how much of America feels, and that is why the movement has become so popular among all walks of life. For once a movement is not made up of “dirty liberal hippies”, as Stephen Colbert satirically calls them. For the first time in recent history, the culmination of the deceit by Wall Street, and the failure of the United States government to regulate such issues, has turned the common man to a kind of revolutionary, and we are seeing those who once stood neutral and apathetic on most political issues, become increasingly radical as time goes on. Although many still stand divided on the issue, the time for neutrality is quickly coming to an end, and soon it may be time to decide where you sit.
Although the movements seem to be proceeding forward in a positive light, the future of the movement is still unwritten. Through my research, I predict that the most important days of the movement are still to come, and the focused area is slowly turning from Occupy Wall Street, to Occupy Oakland, where the protests have been the most violent. Much like Civil Rights protestors, we have to ask ourselves “are we able to accept blows without retaliating?” (King 205). Occupy Oakland’s violence first started with the standard riot control procedure of tear gas and pepper spray. Of course, this being the first act of newsworthy violence against protestors, it gained global attention instantly, and protestors from other movements responded. Protesters from Tarhir Square in Egypt sent their regards in the form of instructions for a do-it-yourself gas mask, and posted the information on a popular website called ‘whyweprotest.net’, with the closing words “God speed comrades”. Also, Scott Olsen, a United States Marine veteran, was shot in the head with a tear gas canister, by police, which fractured his skull, and left him in critical condition in the hospital. When protestors ran over to save him, they were hit point blank with a flash grenade, which is considered a non lethal weapon, but can still rupture ear drums at a point blank range. Some protestors acted out against the police, and retaliated by instigating random acts of vandalism throughout the streets, but were stopped by fellow protestors in every case; a promising outcome that shows that the movement is still maintaining a peaceful note.
Although this violence has the power to turn any moderate into an extremist, its time to figure out “what kind of extremists we will be” (King 214). Will we give in to the false accusations of our critics, or retaliate to harshly to police brutality? I do not think so. I think that the Occupy Movements are becoming much more than just a protest. Now they reflect the good in Americans, and they are showing the world that my generation is not asleep. We are wide awake, and we are waiting. Waiting to take the torch and lead this world into a global age where we are one step closer to equality and peace. To quote one of my personal heroes, Zack de la Rocha: “it has to start somewhere, it has to start some time. What better place than here? What better time than now? All hell can’t stop us now” (Guerilla Radio 1999). God speed comrades!
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