Occupy Wall Street protest may not have central demands, but it’s the perfect response to the economic mess created by the financial sector. Photo by John Minchillo/ CP Photo.
New York City - Everybody has a piece of advice for the protesters at Occupy Wall Street. They should put their clothes on. They should stop raising their fists. They should fact-check their handwritten signs. They should appoint leaders who can give pithy quotes to reporters. They should get with an electoral program.
Indeed, their failure to present demands is the most frequently heard criticism of the OWS protesters, not just in the mainstream press but from veteran leftists as well. What do these wan, angry young people want anyway?
It's not that the demands being suggested by OWS's policy advisers in the blogosphere are not worthy ideas. At a time when we desperately need to rein in financial speculation and change the incentives on Wall Street, a financial transactions tax is a terrific policy proposal.
The thing is, we don't have a scarcity of policy ideas. We are positively bursting with them. Create a housing trust fund! A national infrastructure bank! And, yes, sure, eliminate the carried interest loophole so fat cats don't get a bigger tax break than working people. (Some even have more radical ideas, which are quite sensible, too.)
But at best, we get a polite hearing for these ideas, which then fade away or are hopelessly watered down. We simply lack the power to put them into practice.
And in the recent past, even the most smoothly organized, expertly messaged mass demonstrations have not made a whit of difference. Consider the last big march on Wall Street this past May 12. The coalition, which turned out thousands of protesters on the appointed day, presented the administration of Mayor Bloomberg with a proposal that exhibited great thoughtfulness in its rigour, asking banks to take a 20 per cent cut in their contracts to handle functions like child support disbursements or income tax remittances for the city.
This would have saved $120 million, part of $1.5 billion that could have been extracted from the banking sector to prevent the city from having to slash education and social services, according to the coalition.
The May 12 marchers were many things the OWS protesters are not. They were orderly; they were concrete: they had a plan. But needless to say, the Bloomberg administration did not immediately recognize their plan's superior logic. It was such a non-starter that the city didn't even bother to respond to it.
Or consider another very well-thought-out mass action in the age of Obama: the One Nation Working Together for Jobs, Justice and Education mobilization, which brought 175,000 thousand to Washington, DC, on October 2, 2010. They also came brandishing a plethora of proposals. Shortly thereafter, of course, would come the devastating midterm elections and President Obama's cave on the Bush tax cut extension. One Nation was almost entirely eclipsed by both Glenn Beck's rage-fest a month prior and Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's jokey Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear later the same month.
Of course, we need policy ideas. But sometimes, you also need a spark. Occupy Wall Street is a stroke of brilliance. It's not poll-tested or focus-grouped, but it expresses perfectly the outrage that is the appropriate response to the maddening political situation we find ourselves in today. It succeeds as symbolic politics: taking back the square is just what we need to do.
Maybe this will go nowhere, too. The odds are against it, after all. But what do we have to lose?
From The Nation
Check out plans for the financial district protest.