Occupy Wall Street goes viral

Will the movement that claims to represent 99 per cent Americans help check the greed of the one per cent super-rich?

Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

On October 16, tens of thousands thronged the streets of New York, London, Frankfurt, Madrid, Rome, Sydney and Hong Kong to “initiate global change against capitalism”.

In New York, at least at least 10,000 protesters took their message into the heart of the city: the Times Square. In Australia, about 800 people gathered in Sydney's central business district, carrying cardboard banners and chanting “Human need, not corporate greed.” Protesters will camp indefinitely “to organise, discuss and build a movement for a different world, not run by the super-rich one per cent,” according to a statement on the Occupy Sydney website.

The protests that began about a month back in New York had gone viral. The movement began on September 17, when a handful of mostly young persons demonstrated at New York's Zuccotti Park. The press ignored them totally. Then   some policemen were caught coming down heavily on the protesters. The film was posted on youtube and the movement gathered steam. By the third week of September, the Wall Street in New York was choc-a-block with protesters. “We Are The 99 per cent that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the one per cent,” their banners announced.

“Anyone with eyes open knows that the gangsterism of Wall Street—financial institutions generally—has caused severe damage to the people of the United States (and the world). And should also know that it has been doing so increasingly for over 30 years, as their power in the economy has radically increased, and with it their political power. That has set in motion a vicious cycle that has concentrated immense wealth, and with it political power, in a tiny section of the population, a fraction of 1 per cent, while the rest increasingly become what is sometimes called “a precariat” — seeking to survive in a precarious existence,” economist Richard Wolff wrote.

Wolff who gave a teach-in to the protesters on October 4 has for long been a critic of the US economy. “Tinkering with economic policies won't work because the whole economic model is broken. To an economist, stagnant real wages during economic growth is a jaw-dropper. The whole point of economic growth is supposedly that the rising tide lifts all boats. Since the 1970s, it has become painfully obvious that a whole lot of boats were anchored to the seabed while the tide was pouring in. The water that was supposed to float everyone's boat increasingly went to a few lucky yachts,” he told the protesters.

The media could not ignore the protests. The New York Times ran an editorial which uncharacteristically used harsh words to describe the US economy: “Extreme inequality is the hallmark of a dysfunctional economy, dominated by a financial sector that is driven as much by speculation, gouging and government backing as by productive investment.”

The American sociologist and the World Systems theorist Immanuel Wallerstein believes the success of the movement also carries a threat. “As it attracts more support, it increases the diversity of views among the active protesters. The problem here is, as it always is, how to avoid the Scylla of being a tight cult that would lose because it is too narrowly based, and the Charybdis of no longer having a political coherence because it is too broad. There is no simple formula of how to manage avoiding going to either extreme. It is difficult,” Wallerstein wrote on his blog.

But the octogenarian sociologist who regards the movement as the most important political upheaval in the US since the 1968 uprisings also believes that the Occupy Wall Street movement has already left a lasting legacy. “The US will change in a positive direction. As the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” A new and better world-system, a new and better US, is a task that requires repeated effort by repeated generations. Occupy Wall Street is making a difference, a big difference.”

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