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Re: #occupywallstreet

September 29, 2011

From a cultural point of view, the Wall Street protests are a curious animal. On the surface, what appear to be progressives pushing for increased bank regulation is complicated when one considers, as this article illustrates, the relative amorphousness of the movement. It is an amorphousness that points to a more generalized motivator: people are upset at perceived injustice, economic inequality, and with the fact that Wall Street has essentially stolen money from people just short of gunpoint. This frustration, this anger at having the personal income of millions tampered with, is conservative at its core (PROTECT PROPERTY RIGHTS!).

So to begin, we have a traditionally conservative anger. But this doesn’t look like a conservative movement, partially because the protest is held in New York, partially because most of the protestors appear to be progressives, and partially because any concrete solutions that get discussed do tend to involve baking regulations, or measures to hold business accountable for their actions. At the outset these contradictions make it difficult to paint the movement with a political brush. Additionally, Occupy Wall Street’s unofficial website describes the purpose of the movement as representing the “99 percent” of America that is not super-rich. Can such a movement, one aiming to represent 99 percent of the entire country, truly even called political?

This is a strange movement for other reasons as well: at first, all but ignored by the media (one, two), its numbers had dwindled from 2,000 to near 200 before it received much national attention. Then there has been the element of the protests that is perhaps most discussed, which is the seemingly insane police response (more by individual actors than the NYPD as a whole) documented on youtube, the occupy website, and elsewhere. (EDIT: The NYPD has now launched an investigation into the matter.)

As the movement perhaps gets its second wind and expands to other states, it would seem that it has the potential to go one of two ways: on the one hand, we have people who are angry, and who want banks to be punished. This is valid and justified, but ultimately perhaps a waste of the potential for real change that a protest movement can create. On the other hand, this movement could begin a dialogue around acceptance and reform in the financial sector; as our writer Akshai points out, “Banks aren’t going away.” For him, the discussion must turn to solutions for the future. His list of ideal outcomes for the movement are as follows:

  • Higher reserve requirements for banks
  • Fee on largest banks to pay for resolution insurance (FDIC on steroids make sure we can cover actiongs, e.g. TARP, free of taxpayer money)
  • Immediate confirmation of Rich Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
  • Tobin tax (this was great inclusion in the n+1 article)
  • Reinstating Glass-Steagall to preclude over-consolidation in the industry and keep market share manageable (prevent Too Big to Fail)
  • Federally-assisted refinancing for homeowners to deal with underwater mortgages
  • Volcker rule (which includes higher reserve requirements)
There is a danger in over-generalizing the issues at stake in this movement, of fluffing up the issues on a grandiose scale instead of focusing on what can be done. The following conversation between myself and Akshai was prompted by this interview with lauded journalist Chris Hedges:

Dan: For me the crux of the video is that quote, “Any belief that the formal structures of power including the democratic party are going to ameliorate the injustices being visited upon us is self-delusion.” Is that what this movement is about?

Akshai: The idea isn’t that it’s the Democrats to the rescue. The idea is that the Democratic party can be the vehicle if you claim it. Sharrod Brown, Rich Cordray, Elizabeth Warren; they aren’t the Democratic party, but they are Democrats.

Dan: Elizabeth Warren is my hero.

Akshai: Right, that’s the deal. I hate these ideas that all Democrats and representatives are the same, just another part of party structure.

Dan: I wonder if Democrats can use the rallies to their advantage at some point, as Conservatives did with the Tea Party.

Akshai: They won’t, because they’re idiots.

Dan: womp.

Akshai: This has remained true. Unions barely know how to message. It’s tiring. Pushback has to be precise and organized. Also, this guy [referring to video] is…meh.

Dan: Yeah. I was interested since he had written for NYTimes, and I agree with a lot of what he’s saying in an outside context. But it’s too………..vague? grandiose? I dunno what.

Akshai: Both.

Akshai: The corporate state isn’t terrified. Lord. The only free people in NYC. Jesus. I just feel like it’s narcissism. Only we the protestors. Fuck that. It’s not so “nefarious,” but there are real problems. There are people screwing us and telling us so. But you give them a spanking and a timeout, you take away their fancy toys until they learn how to share. They’re still human. Just incredibly privileged and out of touch ones. Bring them to real life.

Dan: At the same time it’s tough though, since conservatives don’t offer progressives that degree of humanity either. Progressives see themselves being caricatured by the right, and all of a sudden it becomes easier to do the same, instead of offering more sensible solutions.

Akshai: of course.

Dan: Progressives are all socialists…hippies, etc…

Akshai: Now that I believe in gay rights and climate change, I’m the looney left. Environmentalist, etc. We hear this on the hill from democratic staffers. But it’s not just a game-there is real work to be done, bridges to be fixed. Literally and figuratively.

EDIT: Wall Street protesters to target NYPD cops Friday, New York Unions Vow To Support Wall Street Protestors

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Sandra White permalink
    September 30, 2011 12:14 pm

    I love your list of solutions/outcomes desired… Awesome. Thanks for the clear summation. I have been following this movement and thinking finally… “we the people”… getting to the heart of the matter. Equal rights also means equal prosecution and common sense regulations are good!

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