Why Democrats must embrace Occupy Wall Street
Unless you live in a cave or watch Fox News (not that the two are mutually exclusive) you’re likely beginning to hear about Occupy Wall Street, a movement opposed to the negative influence corporations and the wealthiest one percent have over American politics.
Occupy Wall Street recognizes the lack of legal repercussions over the global financial crisis and seeks to draw public attention to this. It was inspired by the Arab Spring movement, particularly the protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square which resulted in the 2011 Egyptian Revolution.
The aim of the demonstration is to begin a sustained occupation of Wall Street and to draw attention to the misdeeds of the banking industry and to call for structural economic reforms. Organizers intend for the occupation to last “as long as it takes to meet our demands.”
When Occupy Wall Street began on September 17, scant attention was paid to it by the mainstream, corporate media. The major networks, cable news networks, and newspapers treated it as an afterthought, if at all. CurrentTV host Keith Olbermann was critical of his colleagues in the mainstream media:
Why isn’t any major news outlet covering this? … If that’s a Tea Party protest in front of Wall Street …, it’s the lead story on every network newscast.
It was not until brutal and questionable actions by the New York City Police Department against non-violent demonstrators, such as the use of pepper spray on those already corralled into “kettles,” that there has been some broad media recognition of Occupy Wall Street.
Yet, the media hasn’t quite acknowledged its rationale. After the late-2007-2009 recession left many countries on the edge of financial collapse, a Canadian-based activist group called the Adbusters Media Foundation began to mull over the concept of a peaceful occupation of Wall Street to protest the financial and political status quo and the failure of the U.S. government to create effective change in the ongoing global financial crisis.
In Summer 2011, the organization took action. As a senior editor of the Adbusters magazine recalls:
[They] basically floated the idea in mid July into our [email list] and it was spontaneously taken up by all the people of the world, it just kind of snowballed from there.
Although Occupy Wall Street was proposed by Adbusters, the demonstration is mostly leaderless. Hacktivists from Anonymous encouraged its followers to take part in the protest, which increased the attention it received. Other groups followed, including the NYC General Assembly and U.S. Day of Rage.
The protest was coordinated with similar events throughout the United States and as of September 27, the Occupy Wall Street site reported that “52 cities were occupied or organizing” including Boston, San Francisco, and Chicago, and these efforts have been coordinated by OccupyTogether.org.
Because the movement had no central leadership, the demands of Occupy Wall Street were initially nebulous, but soon gelled enough to call for President Barack Obama to establish a commission tasked with ending the influence corporate money has over our representation in Washington.
More demands are forthcoming, yet the basic message is that Wall Street is teeming with criminality and unfettered political dominance by dispatching hordes of lobbyists and showering our political leaders with contributions and favors. And it is this control that allows the the one percent to demand the ongoing servitude and suffering for the remaining 99 percent; people who are losing access to good jobs, decent health care, and their social safety nets. Meanwhile the one percent feasts on government welfare for itself and sucks dry our nation’s collective wealth.
There has been a groundswell of support for Occupy Wall Street from educator and author Cornell West, filmmaker Michael Moore, actress Susan Sarandon, media mogul Russell Simmons, and writers Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein among others.
Klein’s is notably articulate in her support and damning of the movement’s naysayers:
This is not the time to be looking for ways to dismiss a nascent movement against the power of capital, but to do the opposite: to find ways to embrace it, support it and help it grow into its enormous potential. With so much at stake, cynicism is a luxury we simply cannot afford.
West has addressed the dismissal of Occupy Wall Street by critics who claim it has no clear or unifying message:
It’s impossible to translate the issue of the greed of Wall Street into one demand, or two demands. We’re talking about a democratic awakening…you’re talking about raising political consciousness so it spills over all parts of the country, so people can begin to see what’s going on through a set of different lens, and then you begin to highlight what the more detailed demands would be. Because in the end we’re really talking about what Martin King would call a revolution: A transfer of power from oligarchs to everyday people of all colors. And that is a step by step process.
Despite getting kudos from Klein and West for its raw, youthful energy, Occupy Wall Street needs to tidy up its act. Ultimately, the footage the public sees on the news is that of bedraggled kids with torn jeans and oversize t-shirts emblazoned with marker-etched slogans blocking traffic. Is it no wonder why the media has become keenly focused on the movement’s lack of refinement? The protest needs an extreme makeover; it needs its demonstrators to look more like middle America. They need to be seen in blazers and khakis, and it must telegraph the frustration of those in those in their senior and middle years. The public needs to see demonstrators that look like their parents, grandparents, and neighbors. This connection must be established for the movement to succeed.
This is where the Democratic Party comes in. While there have been heroes of financial reform within its ranks, like Eric Schneiderman and Elizabeth Warren, many Democrats–particularly in New York–choose to ignore the suffering and frustrations of their constituents. Unfortunately, other Democrats are even accessories to these derelictions.
Democrats–or at least those still with souls–need to take a stand and support Occupy Wall Street. They need to embrace the movement and not be idle. They must recognize that this is just the beginning of a revolution, and one that should eventually have the support of an overwhelming majority of Americans; I believe it is only a matter of time.
I’m speaking particularly to Democrats in the city and in neighboring counties in Long Island, New Jersey, the Lower Hudson Valley, and Connecticut. I’m speaking to politicians, activists, and committee members. These are the people with the organizational tools, the networks, and the supporters to help this movement along. These are the people that can validate the demonstrations and bring legitimacy to the movement.
If Democrats fail to take to streets, it will be a failure to affirm one of the party’s basic tenets, and that is to look out for the well-being of 100 percent Americans–the wealthy, the middle class, and the poor.