What Occupy Wall Street has achieved

There are those who criticize the Occupy Wall Street movement, complaining that they don’t have concrete demands and have not proposed any solutions to the problems. I disagree with that criticism. It seems to me a bit much to expect an unorganized group of people scattered over the globe to come up with solutions to big problems at a time when the US government is so dysfunctional, when it lurches from one crisis to another and is not even able to carry out its minimal function of passing a budget, and when the global economy seems to be so shaky that world leaders seem to be at a loss as to what to do.

What is important is that the movement has highlighted the fact that the problem is with the system itself, not with specific policies that the system creates. As Glenn Greenwald says:

Anyone who expressed difficulty seeing or understanding what motivates these protests revealed many things about themselves. None is flattering. The only thing that’s surprising is that these protests didn’t happen sooner and that they’re not more widespread and intense. I think it’s become increasingly clear that that is likely to change, and soon. Like the Arab Spring, the rapid growth of these protests should be a permanent antidote against defeatism. It’s unclear what these protests will accomplish — that still depends on how many people join them and what they cause it to be — but, already, they prove that the possibility always exists for subverting even the most seemingly invulnerable power factions. That hasn’t happened yet, but the possibility that these protests are only in their incipient stages is one of the more exciting and positive political developments in some time. It’s been clear for quite awhile that unrest and disruptions — and the fear which they alone can put in the hearts and minds of those responsible for widespread ills — are absolute prerequisites for meaningful reform (our fundamentally corrupted electoral process certainly can’t and won’t accomplish that). These protests at least reflect the possibility, the template, for that to happen. And anyone expressing confusion about why these protests are erupting is almost certainly someone invested in keeping things exactly the way they are.

What I am surprised at is how much the movement has achieved. It has spread across the country and the globe. The Guardian has an interactive map of the 951 protests in 82 cities. It has galvanized people who had thought things were hopeless. From being largely ignored or viewed with scorn and derision, it is now being taken seriously by the ruling elites. It is dominating the news with even the corporate media being forced to give respectful coverage. It has changed the conversation, with the focus now aimed squarely at the income and wealth gaps between the oligarchy and the rest of us, and the excessive power of the global financial elites. The slogan “We are the 99%” has caught on and brought scrutiny to bear on the 1%.

The movement has also forced politicians to tread gingerly, to avoid being seen as on the wrong side. President Obama and the Democratic party leadership, although friends and protectors of the oligarchy, have taken pains to try and act as if they sympathize with the movement. Even Eric Cantor, the Republican party leader who initially condemned the movement as a ‘mob’, now says he can understand their frustration. The bankers on Wall Street are complaining that the politicians that they bought are not publicly siding with them against the protestors. But even they have been forced to grumble privately because to attack the protestors publicly is too hot politically.


(Cartoonist is Drew Sheneman. See also Tom Tomorrow.)

The general public is also warming up to the movement with significant majorities agreeing with the main points being made. Even Karl Denninger, one of the founders of the Tea Party, expresses sympathy with the Occupy Wall Street movement and says that the strategy of having a permanent occupation and avoiding calls for a single set of demands is a good one. “The problem with protests and the political process is that it is very easy, no matter how big the protests is, for the politicians to simply wait for the people to go home. Then they can ignore you…. One of the things that the Occupy movement seems to have going for it is it has not turned around and issued a set of formal demands. This is a good thing, not a bad thing.”

As Matt Taibbi points out, the Occupy Wall Street movement transcends the tired left-right, liberal-conservative, Democrat-Republican narrative that the oligarchy and its media like because once you do that, partisans respond to the bugle call and line up accordingly and fight with each other. They do not like to see a critique of the system as fundamentally corrupt because that is a unifying message that will work against them.

All this must be causing some concern to the oligarchy. Will the political allies of the oligarchy try and disperse the movement by force? There have been attempts at this but the use of seemingly excessive force by some NYPD officers has backfired and now there are investigations of two senior officers. Nowadays almost everyone has mobile recording devices and I am surprised that the police seem oblivious that the days are gone when they could randomly attack peaceful demonstrators and escape repercussions because they could not be identified.

It is only when the oligarchy is fearful that they have overplayed their hand and are losing control of the discussion that any meaningful change will occur. The Occupy Wall Street movement is starting to create that fear. That is why it must be supported.


  1. Steve LaBonne says

    OWS is the first hopeful thing I’ve seen in this country for years. (I’d be taking part in Occupy Cleveland myself if the nature of my job didn’t mean that I have too much to lose by doing so- one has to eat, sigh.) The 99% vs. 1% is a brilliant political meme, exactly the right message in all sorts of ways. I’ll have to be content with donating a little money and cheering from the sidelines.

  2. Manik says

    See what havoc one man committing suicide in Tunisia has wreaked. Chaos theory at it’s best! I sincerely hope that things get better in these countries and not worse. Being the pessimist that I am, the glass does seem to be half empty in the short run at least. I hope I am wrong. The initial reports out of Egypt are not encouraging. Already the head of the NTC in Libya has resigned. In the western world Greece is having huge problems, which may overflow into Portugal, Ireland and Spain. Unemployment is at an all-rime highs. I hope I can find something to be optimistic about soon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *