Occupy Wall Street

On Saturday, September 17, an estimated 2,000 activists gathered in One Liberty Plaza in New York City’s financial district to protest the “greed and corruption of the 1%” who caused the global financial meltdown. They call themselves the “99 percenters” and they are mostly in their twenties and thirties, unemployed and struggling to find jobs.

It’s September 20, day four of the Occupy Wall Street action, and a few hundred protestors remain. They have brought tents and sleeping bags and plan to stay for weeks or even months. They want to send a message to the Lloyd Blankfein’s of the world, to Congress, and President Obama, that there must be meaningful regulation of the financial industry and criminal prosecution of those who brought the economy to its knees. They are demanding that those who wiped out the housing values and retirement accounts of tens of millions of ordinary Americans—and plunged additional tens of millions worldwide into poverty—be brought to justice.

However, they are focused on more than prosecuting criminals. They want deeper changes in government policies beyond the ones currently being proposed, i.e. stimulus, deficit reduction, the promotion of consumption. Michael White and Kalle Lasn, writing for the Guardian, report that the protestors want a “Robin Hood Tax” on financial transactions, a reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall Act, a ban on high-frequency “flash” trading and the break-up of too big to fail banks. They want banks that serve the people, the economy and society at large. In addition, they want a whole new way of measuring economic and social progress that goes beyond consumerism. They are dedicated to ending:

  • capital punishment
  • wealth inequality
  • police intimidation
  • corporate censorship
  • the modern gilded age
  • political corruption
  • joblessness
  • poverty
  • health-profiteering
  • American imperialism
  • war

Spanish activists and Adbusters inspired Occupy Wall Street

According to White and Lasn, the Spanish activists who occupied Madrid’s Plaza del Sol earlier this year to demand jobs and social and economic reforms inspired Occupy Wall Street. The idea was floated  in August, 2011, in the Sept/Oct issue of Adbusters magazine. Unaffiliated, independent activists immediately spread the “Occupy Wall Street”  idea through social networks. A plan emerged to enter lower Manhattan on September 17, set up tents, kitchens and peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months. They put up a website and held an organizing meeting in New York City. 150 people showed up and became the core organizers of the occupation, and the group “Anonymous” endorsed the action.

The Spanish indignados (“the angry ones” who occupied Plaza del Sol) planned a solidarity event in Madrid’s financial district. Activists in Milan, Valencia, London, Lisbon, Athens, San Francisco, Madison, Amsterdam, Los Angeles, Israel and beyond planned similar events. The companion international movement is called, Antibanks: Global Action against banks and banksters. According to White and Lasn:

There is a shared feeling on the streets around the world that the global economy is a Ponzi scheme run by and for Big Finance. People everywhere are waking up to the realization that there is something fundamentally wrong with a system in which speculative financial transactions add up, each day, to $1.3 trillion (50 times more than the sum of all the commercial transactions). Meanwhile, according to a United Nations report, “in the 35 countries for which data exist, nearly 40% of jobseekers have been without work for more than one year”.

“CEOs, the biggest corporations, and the wealthy are taking too much from our country and I think it’s time for us to take back,” said one activist who joined the protests last Saturday. Jason Ahmadi, who travelled in from Oakland, California explained that “a lot of us feel there is a large crisis in our economy and a lot of it is caused by the folks who do business here.”

Salon .com reports:

“Optimism — that’s what brought us down here,” said 40-year-old Dan Bryk, who was carrying his eight-month-old son, Henry, in a snuggly while holding a sign saying, “Oligarchy Is Not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things.”

“There’s a delightful naiveté to this crowd,” added Bryk.

“Like everyone our age, we’re overeducated and unemployed,” said Patrick Bruner, a 23-year-old native of Tucson, Arizona who recently migrated to Brooklyn. Bruner said that he and his fellow protestors were prepared to hold the Wall Street square for a long time.

Think Progress: Protestors have a reason to be occupying Wall Street

While many of the conservative defenders of Wall Street may be quick to portray protests against the American financial establishment as driven by envy of its wealth or far-left ideologies, the truth is that people have a very simple reason to be angry—because Wall Street’s actions made tens of millions of people dramatically poorer through no fault of their own. In 2010, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank conducted studies of the effects of the global recession— caused, largely by Wall Street financial instruments that were poorly regulated by government policies—and found that the recession threw 64 million people into extreme poverty. . . .

And nearly three years after the start of the global economic crisis—where taxpayers in multiple countries were called upon to save the financial industry—most of the banking elite’s top executives remain virtually untouched. There have been almost no high-profile convictions for fraud and related financial crimes, banking profits continue to soar, and unemployment not just in the U.S. but globally remains very high.

According to White and Lasn, if the current economic problems in Europe and the US spiral into a prolonged global recession, people’s encampments may become permanent fixtures at financial districts and outside stock markets around the world, until the global economic regime is fundamentally reformed.

Personally, I am grateful for those courageous souls Occupying Wall Street. May they continue to inspire a global uprising against business and politics as usual.

Photo: Occupy Wall Street, Flickr Creative Commons