The Academic Who Anticipated Occupy Wall Street

In mid-August, Prof. Glenn Loury at Brown University spoke about the opportunity for an "anti-rich-banker" protest movement



How interesting to go back and watch Glenn Loury and John McWhorter, whose occasional intellectual sparring matches are always a pleasure, musing in mid-August about whether or not an "anti-rich-banker" protest movement could take hold in the U.S. In the short video clip above, Loury anticipated its arrival, while McWhorter cautioned that it would be difficult in a country as big as America for folks with grievances against Wall Street to identify with one another.

The slogan "We Are the 99 percent" seems pitched to overcome that very obstacle. And although Loury and McWhorter weren't aware of Occupy Wall Street, which arrived on the streets of New York City in mid-September, planning was already underway. One of the earliest organizers, Kalle Lasn of Adbusters, would later address the same question that confused Loury -- why did it take so long after the financial meltdown for the group to come together? Lasn's answer:

When the financial meltdown happened, there was a feeling that, 'Wow, things are going to change. Obama is going to pass all kinds of laws, and we are going to have a different kind of banking system, and we are going to take these financial fraudsters and bring them to justice.' There was a feeling like, 'Hey, we just elected a guy who may actually do this.' In a way, there wasn't this desperate edge. Among the young people there was a very positive feeling. And then slowly this feeling that he's a bit of a gutless wonder slowly crept in, and now we're despondent again.


That's the funny thing about Obama. There were ideologues on the right and left thinking he would attempt radical organizational change on Wall Street and throw its lawbreakers in jail ... even as he staffed his administration with old Wall Street hands and assiduously avoided prosecuting anyone in the political establishment, despite having stated that Bush-era torture was illegal. The hard left and right were equally loath to confront the truth: He's an establishment guy. One wonders how he'll fare as a candidate now that more people realize as much.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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