The Occupy Wall Street movement is bigger than Wall Street, more mature than the Tea Party, and more attuned to reality than the Obama administration. It is a revolution for economic dignity.
I stumbled on the initial Occupy Wall Street protest by accident back on its first day of September 17th walking through the financial district in lower Manhattan. While the group seemed inchoate and far smaller than the 20,000 or so initially advertised, I was intrigued by the solidarity Occupy Wall Street had expressed with protest movements in Spain or even revolutionary episodes such as the pivotal events in Cairo's Tahrir Square during the early days of the Arab Awakening. I overheard that day some bemused onlookers who may have been low-level financial sector workers mockingly saying--"so, this is it?"--but could not help thinking I would be hearing more about Occupy Wall Street in coming weeks.
I'd long suspected the
financial crisis, policy foibles, chronic unemployment, and general
corruption of our politics would sooner or later fuel a measure of
social unrest in this country as it has elsewhere. We are not immune to a
deadening of hope fused with deep-seated suspicion of having been
essentially swindled via policy decisions resulting from broken politics that denies a sense of genuine progress and
These are our young, screaming out in need, meriting dignity, not reprimands.
Almost immediately after espying this nascent protest
movement I left for a three-week business trip to Asia. I was asked on several
occasions overseas about the growing movement. From afar in East Asia, I noticed Occupy Wall Street has done several
things right. Some were a result of sheer luck (read: police
over-reactions), while others showed a measure of tactical skill. A
couple of the initial pepper spray incidents went viral on YouTube, one
showing very young women screaming hysterically while penned--or is the
term for this 'kettled'?--by bright orange police mesh. Here the "luck"
of brute force helped create outsize publicity by a media that had
mostly ignored the going-ons up to that point. These could be our own daughters, after all, and it offends
basic sensibility to see hapless young
women sprayed in or near their faces by male police officers
twice their age (see the footage here).
Another key moment in the growing tide of the movement was the incident of mass arrests in and around the Brooklyn Bridge (again, footage available here for those who are curious). This was partly a result of the confusion among some of the protesters (to be sure, perhaps a convenient confusion) about whether or not they had been granted access to the vehicular lanes rather than merely the pedestrian pathway on the bridge. Regardless of the merits, mass arrests on the order of some 700 or so individuals on an iconic New York landmark will engender healthy international headlines, boosting the nascent protest movement's profile very significantly, with this event likely having constituted the break-out.
Then, of course, there is Zuccotti Park, which Occupy Wall Street have renamed Liberty Plaza (the park's original name was Liberty Plaza Park). Here, the protesters have erected a steadily growing encampment, showing a canny resourcefulness, despite limitations on rights to pitch tents and such, as well as been denied access to more iconic locations such as the near-by actual Wall Street itself. Critically, the protesters have intuited from the get-go that they need to physically inhabit some patch of space literally around the clock, otherwise police will likely sweep in and deny them access, without the public relations boon of a forced deportation. This literal occupation is mission-critical to the branding of Occupy Wall Street, speaking to its passionate indignation, commitment and wherewithal to maintain a 24/7 presence. It echoes to recent revolutionary episodes such as Tahrir Square.
Their presence is being increasingly felt beyond Zuccotti Park, including their forays up toward Washington and Union Squares. This is tactically intelligent, since it garners more publicity, while testing how much the authorities will aim to restrict their movements. What's more, the group has metastasized with outcroppings in Boston, San Francisco, Chicago among many other locales reportedly nearing at this writing some 1,000. Also, and not unlike Egypt, the use of social media is playing a major reinforcing role leveraging the efforts of those physically on the ground.
Some of Occupy Wall Street's more recent tactics (or at least the actions of some associated with the movement) are probably the most controversial to date--leading to almost Bull Connor type imagery of harshly swinging nightsticks (I link some of the relevant footage here)--given some protesters reportedly are attempting to rush police barricades in coordinated fashion to gain access to sites they have been prohibited from to date, say, Wall Street or the New York Stock Exchange ("NYSE"). The protesters should tread carefully here, and not overplay their hand, but why, one wonders, cannot a protest movement at least have intermittent access to such 'sensitive' locations, say the site of the first Presidential inauguration in this nation's history, framed by George Washington's impressive statue there, just across from the NYSE? Mayor Bloomberg of course has a town to run (ironically he is perhaps one of the only men competent enough in the entire country to help us through the dysfunctional political breakdown stoking these very protests via a credible third party bid) and there is always a premium to allow commerce to remain unfettered in this greatest of American cities, but one smells at least incipient whiffs of fear that, who knows, perhaps a more strategic location could be staked out and 'occupied', and so what then? Would a more violent eviction be required? What if the numbers grow exponentially? How many arrests could occur? What if more and more protesters replaced those arrested, indignant at the revolving mass arrests? Could blood spill? At very least one senses an increasing queasiness lurking in the back-drop among those happy to preserve the status quo. Where is this heading?
OWS AND THE TEA PARTY
With Occupy Wall Street, those protective of the status quo may be more rattled than they had
by the Tea Party, which in its aim to minimize government's role, carried an
agenda convenient with Wall Street's current mood. This is
because OWS are directing their ire squarely towards the real elites of
the country, rather than their bought-and-paid marionettes sitting
in Washington. These elites are seen to have benefited from emergency
large-scale existential rescues -- all necessary exigencies to avoid a
second Great Depression, our titular leaders would have it, and remind
us often -- with little accountability, genuine
gratitude or fundamental change emitting from the financial sector post
the Government's ministrations.
The point is not that TARP has been profitable. The point is that the TARP windfall (given the fungible nature of cash) also served to better allow for convenient de-levering on the government's dime. Without tracking of TARP funds, or clarity about the Federal Reserve's policy decisions and generous emergency lending operations, one cannot help feeling something has become well rotten in Denmark. Given this backdrop, Occupy Wall Street, cleverly, is squarely aiming its attentions at the realer powers behind the supposed throne -- that is, where the money is.