Occupy Wall Street: Not Going Gentle into that Good Night

Some journalists in the mainstream media are busily writing obituaries of Occupy Wall Street. Like most obituaries, they extol the virtues of the movement while at the same time damning it with faint praise.

David Carr, writing in the New York Times, sums up OWS like this: “Reporters live for spectacle, and for more than two months Occupy Wall Street has provided one at a fixed address. … Occupy Wall Street is animated by a central, galvanizing idea – that the distribution of wealth is unfair. That struck a very live nerve, grabbing something that was in the air and turning it into simple math: 1 percent should not live at the expense of the other 99 percent.”

What Carr has missed here is that OWS was able to connect a committed group of young activists – by themselves numbering in the few hundreds – with the precariousness felt by the majority of Americans as the recession destroys their hopes and dreams. The occupiers were not simply stating the fact that the rich and powerful have appropriated more and more of society’s wealth. They were also rejecting the limitations on political resistance to the plutocracy imposed by the state, which betrayed the trust placed in the electoral process to restore social equity.

E.J. Dionne comments in the Washington Post: “This movement is about something much bigger than ‘occupying’ a particular space. Occupations proved to be a shrewd tactic. They are not a cause or an end in themselves. Focusing on holding a piece of public land simply makes the movement a hostage to the decisions of local officials, some of whom will inevitably be hostile to its purposes. More important, the movement should remind itself of its greatest innovation, its slogan: ‘We are the 99 percent.’ This is an affirmation that it is trying to speak for nearly everybody. Its tactics should live up to this aspiration by building support among the vast number of Americans who will never show up at the encampments.”

However, the occupiers didn’t initiate the violence meted on them by cohorts of militarized police. In the main they followed tactics of nonviolence. The destruction of their encampments required not just force but also the coordinated ideological manipulation of media and public officials by the Homeland Security infrastructure. The occupations had succeeded in creating a powerful spectacle of popular sovereignty, a reassertion of the ideal that people have the right to decide how they should be governed. Not only is the movement not dead, but, unlike our dysfunctional political system, it has captured the imagination of Americans. It lives in the changed consciousness of the 99 percent, which forms the real context of the 2012 elections.

The Occupy movement has in fact reemerged in a new guise on campuses as students challenge large tuition increases. The New York Times reported: “A video that showed two University of California, Davis, police officers using pepper spray on seated protesters has gone viral, with hundreds of thousands watching what might have been a relatively small encampment compared with the larger protests across the country. … The attack has galvanized protesters on other campuses. Students at the Los Angeles, Berkeley, Riverside and Davis campuses said Monday that they intended to restart their encampments Monday night, in part to test whether they will be rousted or arrested in the wake of the pepper-spraying.”

Katrina vanden Huevel made the connections in the Washington Post: “At UC Davis, in particular, students had spent a week protesting a possible 81 percent tuition increase, from $12,192 per year to $22,200. … ‘One of the reasons I am involved with OWS and advocating for an occupy movement on the UC campus is to fight privatization and austerity in the UC system, and fight rising tuition costs,’ said one victim of the pepper spraying who was interviewed anonymously the following day (and who still had a burning sensation in his throat, lips and nose). ‘I think that citizens have the right to get an education regardless of economic condition.’ Those tuition rate hikes were the result of a massive budget shortfall in California which, in turn, was the result of the housing collapse and recession, which, in turn, was caused by the same bankers and politicians thousands are protesting against in New York and Washington, D.C., and throughout the rest of the country.”

Whatever form or direction this social movement now takes, it is swollen like a river in flood by an economic recession which leaves 15% of twenty-somethings without jobs, threatens 30-50 year-olds with the evaporation of their Social Security and Medicare, while the 60 plus set watches their retirement turn to smoke. Meanwhile in Washington, Democrats and Republicans are in thrall to bankers, bond sellers, and corporate lobbyists—whoever is the highest bidder.

UPDATE: Juan Cole has a report in TruthDig on this issue well worth reading. He makes this point: “A year and a half ago, then-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger complained that California was spending nearly 11 percent of its budget on prisons and only 7.5 percent on the university system. He noted, ‘Thirty years ago, 10 percent of the general fund went to higher education and 3 percent went to prisons.’ The spike in penitentiary spending is artificial, and does not reflect crime trends. Since the early 1990s, crime in the state has fallen, whereas the prison population has skyrocketed. …  the defunding of higher education in favor of an enormous gulag dovetails with a rise in the paramilitary repression of the population as one of America’s premier industries.”


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Filed under austerity measures, financiers, marxism, new york stock exchange, occupy wall street, police raid, political analysis, We are the 99 percent

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