What is surprisingly unique about the Occupy Wall Street demonstration, and supporting actions across the country, is the broad immediate support without an immediately stated objective. With so little coverage and a yet unspecified goal, major unions lent their support, supportive occupations cropped up nationwide, and the numbers in Liberty Park are growing despite NYPD crackdowns.
Unlike anti-war marches, Tea Party gatherings, or other well-worn modes of protest, the notion of an in-person response to Wall Street’s unchecked looting of the economy apparently did not need much explaining. That is because many Americans have been living with painful awareness that their hardships in recent years are related in a myriad of ways to reckless trading, predatory loans, and manifold illegal banking practices, all perpetrated by the same executives still receiving multi-million dollar bonuses whose guilt is trumped by the notion that their companies are Too Big To Fail.
None of these many abuses by financial institutions collectively referred to as Wall Street are new information. It’s not like people just flooded the streets upon hearing that Bank of America is trying to tack on another surcharge, just after laying off over 50,000 employees, just after widespread manipulation of their loan business was deemed not criminal, by their own accord. (No, that move by B of A was just easy pickings for Democrats trying to remember their purpose.)
It’s not like Americans did not wait while the federal government negotiated good-faith interest-free loans to keep huge banks and firms afloat, at the price to taxpayers, many of whom were struggling to stay afloat themselves under variable interest or inflated mortgages foisted upon them by said financial giants. It’s not like financial regulations weren’t proposed to Congress, with larger reforms left by the wayside, and in the final decision by the Federal Reserve on the Durbin Amendment of the Dodd-Frank Finanical Act, credit card companies somehow get to charge more for debit swipes than they had even hoped. Bank lobbyists paid off, in more than one sense.
And, it’s not like President Obama hasn’t trotted out some fine rhetoric of late, angling the ongoing Republican obstructionism to fuel his re-election campaign as it gears up. Yes, it’s math, not class warfare. But, if this were a metaphor of head to head competition between classes – namely, the top 1% Super Rich that owns 40% of the wealth versus the 99% rest of Americans – then Obama would be like a goalie, constantly swarmed by the offensive John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Eric Cantor, Darrell Issa, bank lobbyists, and Goldman Sachs alumni in his own ranks. The Super Rich Team will continue to score point after point on Obama, because despite his considerable skill set, it’s like he’s playing at the company picnic, and really, you just don’t make your bosses look bad when they underwrite your existence.
Obama is looking for $1 billion to fund his re-election campaign. That may seem extraordinary, but after the disastrous Supreme Court decision Citizens United vs. FEC, it is a given that there will be even more spent against him in anonymous corporate money. Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS have announced plans to raise and spend record amounts, over $300 million in outside ads running across the country in the 2012 races.
Obama is not going to get one billion dollars from $5 donations, no matter how many email blasts. Obama and his team have been currying favor like a schoolboy with Wall Street throughout this administration because they are waiting for the pay-off in their campaign coffers. The slap on the wrist following the financial meltdown was more drying their hands like a bathroom attendant so they can get back to work making important deals without consequence.
While the financial meltdown and ensuing bailouts came before Obama, the lack of reform or accountability does not win him any gratitude from either side, it only serves as precedent that selling bundled crap mortgages to old people goes unpunished. In fact, it is richly rewarded. Obama’s deference and endless capital to the banking industry has long made it clear where his priorities are. His jobs plan is well-intentioned, but probably a drop in the bucket and a few years late. For all the bitter clamor over health care reform, it’s quite likely that it will be deemed impermissible by the Supreme Court. Clarence Thomas can’t wait to sit silently through the arguments before he punts our healthcare system back to the wolves that employ his wife, Ginni.
As the crowds grow, this will become Obama’s next oil spill. How long will he let Occupy Wall Street go on before addressing it as more than just a policy point to support his agenda? Many loyalists will defend the intentions and constraints on Obama, but this much is painfully clear: The President must act now. Because if he does not get in front of this parade, it’s about to surpass him.
If Obama really does aspire to be like President Lincoln, then he must recognize that his country is rent apart and it requires a true leader to keep our union from collapsing under debt and looted public services.
Because when people show up at the gates of their oppressor, the response is not: “What do you want? Can you bullet-point it for me?” You know what this is about. Our country has been decimated over the past three years, with continual revelations of financial impropriety, concerted fraud, and executive compensation the amount of a small nation’s GDP. This might be the one protest where, if asked why you were there, you could reply, “Are you fucking kidding me?” and that would actually be understood.
To dispel media misconceptions, here’s what Occupy Wall Street is not: it’s not another Tea Party, a corporate PAC-backed stab at populism consisting of right wing extremists. It’s not just young people in attendance, even though younger generations have more to lose anyway, and many are already crippled with student debt and no job possibilities. (Admittedly, younger people are better suited to sleep in inconvenient places and be fine with that. The kids call this “crashing,” which should not be interpreted as a roughhousing sort of thing.)
Occupy Wall Street is not anti-capitalism. We don’t live in capitalism. Capitalism is supposed to be merit based and left to the market – consumers – to decide where innovation and service is found. What has been foisted on us again and again is not a fair and open market. Massive companies spend huge sums to avoid paying taxes altogether. They then spend money to back politicians that will be friendly to them, in terms of regulations and tax breaks or pressure on rivals. This is a system of massive corporate welfare, where the biggest corporations pay the least to the country that allows them to prosper, while they spend their excess money in hopes of making more money through lower taxes, government jobs, or loosened environmental restrictions. Election cycles ensure ongoing opportunities for candidates to be wooed with money or threatened with ads. The more they spend on the race, the more indebted candidates become to their backers. Those that become elected repay their backers with loose oversight, no-bid contracts, and even accept their donors’ legislation pre-written. We don’t live in capitalism — that’s favoritism.
And most importantly, Occupy Wall Street is not one political party or part pf a spectrum. This grassroots movement is fundamentally removed from both parties, because both parties accept vast fortunes from Wall Street to not rain on their parade. The reason abuses have thrived is because of the cost of running for office. Most people’s political persuasion or identity is based on their own sense of what’s just and fair. The nuance of foreign policy or civil liberties is lost when people are losing their homes due to manipulative mortgages from banks that have faced no discipline or reform and have been given federal money to loan to people which they still sit on.
Yet, it will take a political solution to retake our country from the Gollum of Wall Street. There’s no way any of these banks or brokers will willingly accept reform measures, even after taking trillions of taxpayer money following their own colossal fuck-ups. Wall Street execs thrive on extracting more and more profit per sale, and get off on boardroom backstabbing. Do you expect them to respond to people of all types camped outside their offices politely? The only thing they care about is if the market goes down.
Real financial overhaul will only happen if we reclaim our elections. We need real campaign reform, and we need to elect the people who will enact it. We do that through running and winning in primaries, where the party’s pick usually prevails with the most money. We innovate low budget campaign strategies to support candidates not backed by Political Action Committees, fronts for corporate money. We do it through becoming the media and covering these candidates where we live and across the country. And it starts in the streets. Where else is there but the streets?
America was born in the streets. Our first president was sworn in on the steps of Wall Street, where Congress convened for years. The framer’s dream of escaping monarchy is being eclipsed by the wealthiest 1% and their insatiable assault on anything the government provides to the public.
How can we not occupy Wall Street? Wall Street occupies US.