Wednesday, October 5, 2011


I'm keeping my fingers crossed for Occupy Wall Street--and donating to the cause. Is this the beginning of the movement we have been waiting for? I remember, months ago, Ellie and I believed that the Jon Stewart Rally to Restore Sanity might be that beginning; we went to Washington to participate in the event and support it with our physical presence on the Mall. We were impressed by the energy, by the number of people gathered there in the same spirit we brought with us, but were disappointed when that energy seemed to get mis-chanelled. Many--perhaps most--of us had misunderstood Jon Stewart's intention, which proved to be more benign than we had imagined it to be. Its assumption that insanity reigned equally on both sides and its insistent attempt to be politically even-handed pulled the teeth from what we had intended to be our protest, the beginning of a long-overdue revolution against the power of money in our political life and the crushing of the middle class.

Occupy Wall Street feels a lot more radical. It feels a lot more people-driven (check out We Are the 99%), a lot more in tune with the undertow of discontent with government dysfunction. It may appeal to some of those who joined the Tea Party, whose rapid drift into insanity and blind, right-wing fanaticism must surely have dismayed some of its original proponents. Occupy Wall Street's targets, so far as I can tell, are the ones we need to be addressing: the excess of corporate power, the hegemony of wealth, the misappropriation of the political and judicial system to further profit-making goals at the expense of those of us who simply live our lives, and want to work and achieve a modicum of comfort and happiness.

Something has gone seriously awry. The Tea Party, give them credit, were the first to choose activism and revolt in the face of widespread indications of systemic failure. In being misled into focusing all their outrage on "big government" and the deficit, however, they were soon beguiled into sacrificing their own economic interests to those able to take advantage of their passion--and what I personally see to be their naivete and gullibility. As a grassroots effort, now clearly spreading beyond its narrow New York City origins, Occupy Wall Street has much in common with the Tea Party, but is focused on the controlling forces behind government, those who determine the outcome of elections and shape all aspects of the government's work with their money.

I found this "Declaration of the Occupation of New York City" online. It's worth reading. I hope that the activities and disruptions of the past few days will prove, as I believe, to be no more than the first tentative eruptions from a vast cauldron of discontent that boils just below the surface in every part of the country. We are in dire need of the non-violent revolution they portend. The Declaration:

As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies.

As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.

They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage.
They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses.
They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.
They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.
They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless animals, and actively hide these practices.
They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions.
They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right.
They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers’ healthcare and pay.
They have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people, with none of the culpability or responsibility.
They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams that look for ways to get them out of contracts in regards to health insurance.
They have sold our privacy as a commodity.
They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press. They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products endangering lives in pursuit of profit.
They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.
They have donated large sums of money to politicians, who are responsible for regulating them.
They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil.
They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people’s lives or provide relief in order to protect investments that have already turned a substantial profit.
They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit.
They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.
They have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners even when presented with serious doubts about their guilt.
They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad. They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.
They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts. *

To the people of the world,

We, the New York City General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert your power.

Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone.

To all communities that take action and form groups in the spirit of direct democracy, we offer support, documentation, and all of the resources at our disposal.

Join us and make your voices heard!


Ross Wolfe said...

One of the most glaring problems with the supporters of Occupy Wall Street and its copycat successors is that they suffer from a woefully inadequate understanding of the capitalist social formation — its dynamics, its (spatial) globality, its (temporal) modernity. They equate anti-capitalism with simple anti-Americanism, and ignore the international basis of the capitalist world economy. To some extent, they have even reified its spatial metonym in the NYSE on Wall Street. Capitalism is an inherently global phenomenon; it does not admit of localization to any single nation, city, or financial district.

Moreover, many of the more moderate protestors hold on to the erroneous belief that capitalism can be “controlled” or “corrected” through Keynesian-administrative measures: steeper taxes on the rich, more bureaucratic regulation and oversight of business practices, broader government social programs (welfare, Social Security), and projects of rebuilding infrastructure to create jobs. Moderate “progressives” dream of a return to the Clinton boom years, or better yet, a Rooseveltian new “New Deal.” All this amounts to petty reformism, which only serves to perpetuate the global capitalist order rather than to overcome it. They fail to see the same thing that the libertarians in the Tea Party are blind to: laissez-faire economics is not essential to capitalism. State-interventionist capitalism is just as capitalist as free-market capitalism.

Nevertheless, though Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy [insert location here] in general still contains many problematic aspects, it nevertheless presents an opportunity for the Left to engage with some of the nascent anti-capitalist sentiment taking shape there. So far it has been successful in enlisting the support of a number of leftish celebrities, prominent unions, and young activists, and has received a lot of media coverage. Hopefully, the demonstrations will lead to a general radicalization of the participants’ politics, and a commitment to the longer-term project of social emancipation.

To this end, I have written up a rather pointed Marxist analysis of the OWS movement so far that you might find interesting:

“Reflections on Occupy Wall Street: What It Represents, Its Prospects, and Its Deficiencies”


PeterAtLarge said...

Thanks for this thoughtful response, Ross. Your insights are much appreciated. My own hope is that the energy generated by OWS will prove the start of a groundswell that demands the replacement of naive, knee-jerk thought with the kind of serious analysis and planning that is notably absent from today's political dialogue. Perhaps it's too much to hope for! Thank you, any way, for taking the time and trouble to respond.