Maybe nothing will be accomplished at the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations and marches. Maybe the whole thing will dissolve into riots and chaos and looting. Maybe the cops will finally arrest enough people to cripple the event’s momentum. Maybe nothing will change at all and corporations will keep banking their profits and shipping jobs overseas, while the big banks privatize obscene profits and socialize all the losses attendant upon their gaming of the system.
But at least someone is standing up and saying something.
Until last weekend, if you read anything about the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations now going on in Zuccotti Park (re-named Liberty Square by the protestors) you read that it was a silly, unfocused bacchanal staged by a few hundred disaffected hippies. That’s what Citibank and President Obama and the GOP and the New York Times want you to think. Never mind the usual cranks like Glenn Beck and Rick Perry and Tea Party “revolutionaries” whose idea of revolution begins and ends with being personally exempted from paying taxes (like their free-market heroes at General Electric). It’s Lockheed Martin and CNN and Aetna who want you to think that the problem with America is selfish Americans who aspire to some kind of affordable living wage and access to universal healthcare that might prevent them from being financially destroyed by their next illness.
So for a week what you saw in the media was, “Ha, ha, look at the dirty hippies and weirdos,” and “Why don’t you get a job?”
But then old people whose savings were wiped out showed up, and the people who work fifty and sixty hours a week and still don’t make enough money to lift themselves above the poverty line (in a city where 20% of the population exists below the poverty line) showed up. And then the broken Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans showed up and and the people with PhDs and $75,000 student loans that have ballooned into $200,000 debts due to bank fees and penalties showed up. Oh, and the Marines showed up—to protect the protestors. On Wednesday, the unions are showing up.
And what can the corporations and the banks really say? It’s been three years since the global financial institutions drove the economy off a cliff, and not one act of legislation has been passed to rein them in. No one went to jail except Bernie Madoff, who had the temerity to steal from rich people. Months after the self-inflicted calamity, it was business as usual on Wall Street, with the biggest firms handing out eight- and nine-figure bonuses to executives who apparently must be retained at any cost.
What can Barrack Obama say? All of his biggest donors are Wall Street bankers; all of his “financial advisors” and “job czars” are the same Goldman Sachs and General Electric CEOs who created the crisis. On the GOP side, it’s all about breaking unions and cutting spending. Even if Congressional Republicans would let a true banking reform bill reach Obama’s desk, he’d never sign it.
Meanwhile, the big banks borrow money at 0% interest from the US government (the Federal Funds Rate has been at zero, since December 2008), then lend it to cash-strapped Americans at interest rates of 14.99%. The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005, signed into law by George Bush in 2005 as a means to make declaring bankruptcy more difficult for ordinary Americans, remains in effect even as the banks themselves have demonstrated their willingness to shake down those same Americans for hundreds of billions the moment the big banks’ bottom lines are threatened by their own malfeasance. Banks, in collusion with colleges, have presided over a system in which college fees and tuition have risen 439% since 1982, while student loan borrowers remain the only class of borrowers who have no recourse to bankruptcy protection. Americans have grown used to the fact that their 401(k)s grow in small increments during good times and plummet precipitously during bad times.
So now somebody is saying something. And Big Business and the bankers are silent, fully expecting, like dozens of Hosni Mubaraks, to wait out the tempest with the help of the media and the police and the politicians of both parties. But the people in the street, the “99 percent,” burdened with unrepayable debt and with little hope for the future, have nothing left to lose. If the revolution this time fails, it lays the groundwork for the success of the next one.
Critics (mostly on the right) admonish the protestors for being unrealistic. “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you,” they say. But these people are past all that now. The younger protestors are part of a Lost Generation that graduated from college to find a barren employment landscape. They’ll never catch up to the lifestyles their parents and grandparents enjoyed. The older people are disenfranchised in their 40s and 50s; many will never again work in any real career or professional capacity at all. They have nothing for retirement. The hand stopped feeding these people a long time ago.
Here’s a photo blog over at WeAreThe99Percent of desperate, protestors and those similarly effected, who have written out their doleful stories for the world to see. Look at all the dirty hippies, too lazy to get jobs:
Related: The Vampire Squid Speaks
Related: Attack Of The Very Serious People