Struggling to come up for air from a brutal schedule, for several weeks I had been planning to write an article about the necessity of those affected by the Great Recession to take to the streets to express their outrage. Before I could put pen to paper it happened. A disparate band of mostly young protesters from around the country, disgusted with the rapacious behavior of 21st century “Robber Barons,” marched on Wall Street and set up a camp called “Occupy Wall Street.” As an organizer one never knows what event, what incident or action will be the spark that galvanizes a movement for change. In the face of a Great Recession, precipitated by the greed-driven and reckless behavior of the bandits on Wall Street, there has been growing discontent among the American people, but with rare exception (mass actions by labor and allies in Wisconsin and Ohio) there has been a noticeable absence of mass action, particularly on the left. Indeed, over the past couple of years, it has been the Tea Party Patriots who have captured media attention and dominated the national discourse with their caravans and protest demonstrations calling for deep spending cuts, deficit and debt reduction, lower taxes and limited government. Purportedly born out of outrage over the bail-out of Wall Street, curiously the Tea Party has leveled its fire at “big government” as opposed to the bandits on Wall Street who committed the crime.
On the left, President Obama has been the primary target of outrage for his failure to articulate and fight for more progressive policies, including bailing out the victims of the sub-prime mortgage scam and more aggressively reining in, even investigating and prosecuting those who caused the crisis. In a recent series of articles on strategy for the progressive movement in 2012 and beyond, I suggested that rather than focus exclusively on Obama, progressives need to act boldly to galvanize a movement around the vision, values and principles of a socially responsible economy where the needs, interests and aspirations of the people take precedent over profit and property as dictated by corporations and financial institutions – Wall Street. In a political environment where a timid President is hampered by the noise and obstructionist tactics of the reactionaries, we who believe in a different definition of “freedom and democracy” than the conservatives must take to the streets and mobilize to march on ballot boxes to articulate and advance our vision and agenda. We must work to “unite the many to defeat the few!”
What has now become the Occupy Wall Street movement that is spreading across the nation like wildfire is potentially a game changer, a turning point, a social movement with the potential to impact the political discourse by refocusing on the urgent need to preserve and expand the budding culture of rights fought for by generations of progressives. It is Wall Street that embodies the evils of “unbridled Capitalism” with its insatiable appetite for profits at any costs and any means, including scamming millions of Americans through the subprime mortgage fiasco and slicing/dicing/packaging paper to make obscene fortunes from exotic schemes outside the view of the American public; it is Wall Street that pays its executives exorbitant salaries, in many instances hundreds of times more than the average worker and provides multi-million dollar severance packages when vaulted corporations fail; it is Wall Street which expends millions of dollars on lobbyists to purchase policies in Washington favorable to its interests and vigorously and viciously fights against “regulations,” no matter how mild (like the Dodd-Frank bill) to rein in the practices/behavior harmful to people and the nation. It has been government policies favorable to Wall Street coupled with the incremental shredding of the social safety net and relentless assault on labor/unions that have led to the greatest level of inequality or gap between rich and poor since the Great Depression. According to a recent New York Times Editorial, the top 1% now accounts for nearly 24% of the nation’s income, “the highest since 1928.” And still Wall Street craves more. It was this craving, the inexhaustible quest for more and more profit by corporations and financial institutions grown “too big to fail” with the tacit if not explicit approval of the government, that led to an economic collapse, the Great Recession which brought the U.S. and the world to the brink of catastrophe.
Occupy Wall Street has exploded onto the scene in this moment of grave crisis in the economic and political life of the nation, providing a much needed outlet and target for the pervasive rage rampant among millions ravished by joblessness, mortgage foreclosures and financial institutions shamelessly eager to rape them with fees calculated to evade the constraints imposed by the newly created Consumer Protection Agency. But, thus far Occupy Wall Street is a self-proclaimed “leaderless,” politically non-aligned movement with a multiplicity of messages, grievances and righteous slogans but no coherent set of goals/demands. And, there are scant numbers of Blacks and other people of color in the ranks of the protesters. The movement is overwhelmingly white.
Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW website www.ibw21.org and www.northstarnews.com.
This is the first of a three-part commentary by Dr.Daniels on the Occupy Wall Street movement.