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Emancipation Occupation

October 14, 2011

So, it looks like Mayor Bloomberg is making moves to “take out the trash” in Zuccotti Park, where the misnomered “Occupy Wall Street” has set up camp indefinitely.  Having been there, I can report firsthand that between a central food preparation area and comfort stations, they are set up to last. And they even have the infrastructural support to meet artificially imposed civic duties.


But though the powers that be once thought that this would be just another factious passing fad, OWS has proven that the movement is here to stay, whether that stay is in Zuccotti Park or D.C. or in any of the 25 other cities around the world. And the movement is growing because the veneer of immutability has fallen from the status quo.

Our basic message is: the taboo is broken, we do not live in the best possible world, we are allowed and obliged even to think about alternatives.

They will tell you that you are dreaming, but the true dreamers are those who think that things can go on indefinitely they way they are, just with some cosmetic changes. We are not dreamers, we are the awakening from a dream which is turning into a nightmare. We are not destroying anything, we are merely witness[ing] how the system is gradually destroying itself. We all know the classic scene from cartoons: the cat reaches a precipice, but it goes on walking, ignoring the fact that there is no ground under its feet; it starts to fall only when it looks down and notices the abyss. What we are doing is just reminding those in power to look down.

That was what Slavoj Žižek, a philosopher known for his brash take on brutal truth, told OWS, and he has not been alone. Noam ChomskyPaul Krugman, Joseph StiglitzChris Hedges, Alec Baldwin, Immortal Technique, Naomi Klein, Michael Moore, Margaret Atwood, Radiohead, Salman Rushdie, George Soros, Richard D. Wolff, Kanye West and Russell Simmons (sidenote: I saw Simmons when he was arriving in his Maybach–irony?) have all announced their support of OWS. OWS already has twice the positive public opinion than the Tea Party has.

It is revealing that media outlets keep asking about what the movement is “demanding.” “What are your demands,” they ask, as though this was some kind of hostage situation. Essentially, the media are looking to ask the questions that they think will either move the debate forward or push it into a corner. The movement has resisted providing a clear answer, wisely building support and momentum through the unifying aspect of dissatisfaction with the status quo and the current distribution of power over process and law. Really, the OWS movement is conservative: all it calls for, in essence, is the restoration of the rule of law as opposed to the rule of money.

Even though there have been shocking stories about Wall Street’s corruption ever since the credit crisis started to bubble up, there has been a problem of sustaining political momentum and energy in the direction of change. Inertia is a bitch of a force and a vested interest’s best friend.  It’s not every day that there is a new discovery or development regarding the corrupt state of our polity that can be fashioned into a “newsworthy” story. OWS, on the other hand, provides a point of conversation and debate on an essentially daily basis. See, e.g., this blog. Hopefully, through enough airing of grievances and frank political discussion, the general ideological shift “in the aether” will filter upwards and change the tone and attitude of the polity (whether the representatives themselves who have pledged their support or the individuals that might vote for those on the fence) as questions are raised going forward.

The essence of this particular sort of oligarchic power is its complexity and day-to-day invisibility: Its worst crimes, from bribery and insider trading and market manipulation, to backroom dominance of government and the usurping of the regulatory structure from within, simply can’t be seen by the public or put on TV.

Matt Taibbi, an outspoken voice for the left of late, having written about how to best grapple with the creeping concentration of power, wealth, and influence in society gave some slightly more pragmatic advice to OWS:

  1. Break up the monopolies. Repeal Graham-Leach-Bliley and restore Glass-Steagal financial regulations that require the financial industry to remain more distinct and separate.
  2. Make Wall Street pay for its own bailouts. A tax of 0.1 percent on all trades of stocks and bonds and a 0.01 percent tax on all trades of derivatives would generate enough revenue to pay us back for the bailouts, and still have plenty left over to fight the deficits the banks claim to be so worried about.
  3. No public money for private lobbying. A company that receives a public bailout should not be allowed to use the taxpayer’s own money to lobby against him.
  4. Tax hedge-fund gamblers. Immediate repeal the preposterous and indefensible carried-interest tax break.
  5. Change the way bankers get paid. We need new laws preventing Wall Street executives from getting bonuses upfront for deals that might blow up in all of our faces later
I doubt that even these massive OWS protests will have such an immediate coercive effect on the legislation of this country. However, like the Tea Party before it, OWS as a movement may embolden legislators who were already of a mind to push these kinds of reforms, and get representatives elected at the margins who will push for these ideas in the next knock-down, drag-out conflict that threatens a government shutdown or other end-game legislative scenario. That alone is worth keeping up the fight, or at least the discussion.
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