Occupying Wall Street and the Protests Against Corporate Greed

About ten days ago, what began as a murmur of dissent, gathered momentum to become a multidimensional attack on corporate greed in America. Thousands of ordinary people have come out into the streets in New York, most notably at Zuccotti Park and the message of the protests is spreading to other cities in the United States, including Boston, Los Angeles, Denver and Seattle (among others). Initially, it was only small public broadcast stations and Democracy Now that deigned to cover the protests, even as the mainstream media ignored the event as the handiwork of a few anarchists bent upon ranting against the banks. Today, with inclement weather on its way, the protestors in New York and other cities are not being swayed, by the police or by jeering political commentators from both coasts.
The protestors have one simple message for those who are willing to listen. They want their government to stop bailing out big banks that have made profits over the lives of ordinary American citizens. Between 2005-2008, banks in the US were giving loans to almost anyone who could sign their names. Most of these loans were for houses that were being sold at outrageously complicated rates that looked affordable but were mired in clauses that would haunt the so-called beneficiaries. The banks then insured the risks of these loans and continued to expand the IOUs in order to show that they were making money. In reality, these banks had invested in the misery of a people who had been duped into acquiring commodities that they could not afford. In turn, their inability to pay had also been converted to a commodity called risk and was traded by unscrupulous investors on Wall Street. The long and short of this tragic story began in 2008, when the police were called upon by banks to throw people out of houses that they could not afford to hold on to. The downward spiral that began with the foreclosures have continued to create a situation where people are losing their jobs and are unable to afford the rising costs of healthcare and basic commodities.
Against the backdrop of this bleak situation, many in the US are beginning to question the manner in which the corporate sector has ruined the economy and how it still continues to hold the entire government to ransom with its demands for bailouts. Out of this anger has emerged a core set of demands that include an end to corporate welfare, higher taxes on the rich and on big business corporations, support for trade unionism and protection of medicare and social security. It has to be mentioned here that the partisan politics between the Republicans and Democrats has led to the erosion of social security and medical care for the poor, since the Republicans have always held that such programmes are far too costly for the state to bear. Some other protestors are also calling for an end to wars and abolishing the death penalty.
It is too early to tell if this is America’s defining moment. Some are already calling it the “American Autumn” that follows the “Arab Spring”. Personally, I think such laudatory descriptions of what is essentially raw, purposeful collective anger, is a bit premature. The critics of the occupation, especially those who favour free markets and corporate control over public life, claim that the protestors are self-deluding idiots who ought to go back home and get their message right. This kind of paternalistic dismissal detracts from the fact that there is growing discontent in the US. Some of it comes from that crazy, corporate backed phenomenon called the “Tea Party”, which is nothing but a host of conservatives tied together in their hatred for anything that remotely resembles socialist policy. No, the occupation of Wall Street is not on a similar register, even though vice president Biden likens them to their supposed counterparts on the other end of the spectrum.
One hopes that these protests will begin the process of loosening the grip that the military industrial complex has over political decisions in the richest country in the world. While the inchoate nature of the protests and diffused character of the protesters, might be a cause for concern for those who want clearer goals and demands, it is suffice to be reminded of the Tracy Chapman song of the 1980s that rhetorically stated: “Don’t you know, talking ‘bout a revolution sounds like a whisper”.

Sanjay (Xonzoi) Barbora