The idea that increased unemployment and a vast and growing gap between a rampaging oligarchy and the rest of the population could lead to riots and other forms of trouble in the US is something that some of us have been warning about for some time. But it was still startling to hear someone in the oligarchy like the mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg say the same thing. He suggested that the popular uprisings that happened in Egypt and Spain could happen here too. Of course, he thinks that this would be a bad thing, but the fact that a member of the oligarchy saw the potential of such a thing happening here is significant.
He said this just before the Occupy Wall Street movement began on September 17 to create a permanent protest site to block off Wall Street. Initially they were stopped by the police but they managed to overcome that obstacle and have now set up permanent camp. Glenn Greenwald says there are signs that the oligarchy is getting nervous and they are, as usual, using their lackeys in the establishment media to try and belittle and undermine the protests.
Mass movements rarely have very targeted goals, at least at the beginning. They tend to have overlapping areas of concern that coalesce around one or two ideas that everyone can identify with. In Egypt for example, there was widespread dissatisfaction with the cost of living, unemployment, corruption, censorship, repression, etc. that coalesced around the goal of getting rid of Mubarak. Even the American Declaration of Independence consisted of a long list of complaints, many of them quite esoteric that hardly anyone remembers anymore. But all agreed on the need to eliminate rule by the king of England.
The current unrest in the US is qualitatively different from those that took place in the 1960s. Those were fueled by the Vietnam war and racial tensions due to the civil rights movements. While those were also dominated by young people, the current unrest seems to encompass a wider group that is more diffuse and less focused on specific issues and consisting more of an inchoate sense that somehow the system is completely rigged to benefit the very few at the expense of the many and needs to be changed. But the central focus that the rule by the 1% oligarchy located largely within the confines Wall Street is bad and must go is a message that is catching on. The slogan “We are the 99%” is ingenious in the way it highlights the essential problem. More and more attention is being focused on the 1% problem in the US.
Just like the people in the Arab spring, it is young people who have seized the initiative to actually get out and do something about a problem that old fogeys like me have been merely complaining about. Journalist Chris Hedges visited the scene and described what he saw as a ray of hope. Hedges writes that the young people camping out there represent the best among us because they have identified the enemy and are taking a stand and now the rest of us have to choose where we stand.
There are no excuses left. Either you join the revolt taking place on Wall Street and in the financial districts of other cities across the country or you stand on the wrong side of history. Either you obstruct, in the only form left to us, which is civil disobedience, the plundering by the criminal class on Wall Street and accelerated destruction of the ecosystem that sustains the human species, or become the passive enabler of a monstrous evil. Either you taste, feel and smell the intoxication of freedom and revolt or sink into the miasma of despair and apathy. Either you are a rebel or a slave.
Choose. But choose fast. The state and corporate forces are determined to crush this. They are not going to wait for you. They are terrified this will spread. They have their long phalanxes of police on motorcycles, their rows of white paddy wagons, their foot soldiers hunting for you on the streets with pepper spray and orange plastic nets.
Those on the streets around Wall Street are the physical embodiment of hope. They know that hope has a cost, that it is not easy or comfortable, that it requires self-sacrifice and discomfort and finally faith. They sleep on concrete every night. Their clothes are soiled. They have eaten more bagels and peanut butter than they ever thought possible. They have tasted fear, been beaten, gone to jail, been blinded by pepper spray, cried, hugged each other, laughed, sung, talked too long in general assemblies, seen their chants drift upward to the office towers above them, wondered if it is worth it, if anyone cares, if they will win. But as long as they remain steadfast they point the way out of the corporate labyrinth. This is what it means to be alive. They are the best among us.
The choice of which side we should be on is not that hard. After all, we are the 99%.