Is Occupy Wall Street About Potent Anger or Misguided Radicalism? Six Competing Views

By Sterling Wong  OCT 04, 2011 1:10 PM

Are bankers the bad guys? Are defined goals even important? See what is being said.


From a small sit-in protest three weeks ago that perhaps only inconvenienced a few bankers who had to find a new lunch venue, Occupy Wall Street has grown into a national movement of sorts, with similar mass demonstrations sprouting in Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington, and Boston.

Even though Occupy Wall Street has made national headlines with news of police brutality and mass arrests, there's still confusion as to who started the movement, who has joined, and exactly what the goal is.

To recap, the movement was initiated by an offshoot of Adbusters magazine and US Day of Rage. Now into its third week, the protests on the ground have been led by a body of activists, students, and artists who had earlier come together to fight against New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s planned budget cuts and layoffs. The group calls itself the New York City General Assembly, and according to the Nation, it's “a horizontal, autonomous, leaderless, modified-consensus-based system with roots in anarchist thought.”

According to Occupy Wall Street’s website, the protests are aimed at highlighting the corruption and greed present in America’s economic and political systems and making clear how that corruption has resulted in a huge chasm between the richest 1% of the nation and the remaining 99%.

Of course, this growing movement has met with a diverse line of opinions. Type in the hashtag #OccupyWallStreet on Twitter, for example, and you will find a new tweet every 20 seconds or so. Some commentators have voiced their support for the movement, arguing that it provides a voice for the disenfranchised, and other criticize it for being disorganized and ineffectual. Whatever it is, Occupy Wall Street has captured the imagination of Americans in a way not seen since the Tea Party protests began three years ago. Here, we summarize six prevailing views on this mass movement.

The This-Is-Beyond-the-Democratic-Party View
High-profile civil libertarian blogger Glenn Greenwald from offers his rebuttal to those who criticize the protest’s lack of a coherent message, saying that there is meaning even in a protest for protest’s sake, because it highlights the profound anger of the citizenry. In particular, he notes that if some people on the political left have been critical it's because they too have vested interests and are deeply entrenched in the current political system of the country.

Some of this anti-protest posturing is just the all-too-familiar New-Republic-ish eagerness to prove one’s own Seriousness by castigating anyone to the left of, say, Dianne Feinstein or John Kerry; for such individuals, multi-term, pro-Iraq-War Democratic Senator-plutocrats define the outermost left-wing limit of respectability. Also at play is the jingoistic notion that street protests are valid in Those Bad Countries but not in free, democratic America.

A significant aspect of this progressive disdain is grounded in the belief that the only valid form of political activism is support for Democratic Party candidates, and a corresponding desire to undermine anything that distracts from that goal. Indeed, the loyalists of both parties have an interest in marginalizing anything that might serve as a vehicle for activism outside of fealty to one of the two parties (Fox News‘ firing of Glenn Beck was almost certainly motivated by his frequent deviation from the GOP party-line orthodoxy which Fox exists to foster).

Read more here.

The Bankers-Won’t-Care-Anyway Argument
Occupy Wall Street will not work, says Daniel Indiviglio at The Atlantic, who lists five reasons to support his thesis. Like many others, he criticizes the movement’s lack of clear objectives, and he adds that the anger directed against banks is misplaced because they serve a crucial function in the economy. In addition, he says, Wall Street is unlikely to be affected by the protests.

Over the weekend, I saw a YouTube video of some Wall Streeters sipping champagne as they watched the protests from a balcony above. This is an extreme example, but such bankers who fit the stereotype that the protesters hate obviously aren't moved by the demonstration. In reality, the vast, vast majority of bankers, traders, and investors aren't out to rob the poor to feed caviar to the rich. They are doing honest work that holds together the global financial industry. That large majority of Wall Streeters will walk by the protesters and shake their heads at the crowds' misunderstanding of what they do.

See more at The Atlantic.

The Wall-Streeters-Don’t-Earn-That-Much View
As a symbol of both political and economic power, New York City's mayor has his opinion on the protest. And unsurprisingly, he's not too sympathetic to its cause. In a radio interview, Bloomberg first warns that he cannot guarantee that protestors can continue to stay at Zucotti Park for as long as they want, and adds that activists are actually attacking middle class people as much as the wealthy elite.

"The protesters are protesting against people who make $40,000 and $50,000 year and are struggling to make ends meet," the mayor told WOR radio host John Gambling.

"Those are the people that work on Wall Street in the finance sector ... If the banks don't go out and make loans, we will not come out of our economic problems. We will not have jobs."

For more, see the New York Daily News.

The It’s-All-About-a-Paradigm-Shift View
David Graeber was one of the leaders of the Occupy Wall Street protests when they first began. In an interview with the Washington Post, Graber explains why criticizing the protests for lacking a defined list of goals is to miss entirely the point of the protests. He explains that as the movement grows, it is developing new organizational forms to handle issues from sanitation to tax policy.

"It’s very similar to the globalization movement. You see the same criticisms in the press. It’s a bunch of kids who don’t know economics and only know what they’re against. But there’s a reason for that. it’s pre-figurative, so to speak. You’re creating a vision of the sort of society you want to have in miniature. And it’s a way of juxtaposing yourself against these powerful, undemocratic forces you’re protesting. If you make demands, you’re saying, in a way, that you’re asking the people in power and the existing institutions to do something different. And one reason people have been hesitant to do that is they see these institutions as the problem.”

Head to the Washington Post to read further.

The I-Dislike-the-Left-But-These-People-Have-a-Point View
Over at Fox News, Dan Gainor slams Occupy Wall Street for being a typical left-wing anti-capitalism project that does not enjoy the support of the American public. He also criticizes the liberal bias in mainstream media coverage of the protests. Gainor does, however, concede that the movement does identify a key problem in America: the growing disconnect between average Americans and the political elite in Washington.

But despite the lefty craziness and standard media love affair with such, even the protesters aren’t 99 percent wrong. A web page devoted to horror stories of people trying to make it in a tough economy has far more impact than anything a bunch of protesters can manage. One man is unemployed, uninsured and battling cancer. Another is the parent of a young girl who wants a puppy but they have been unemployed for three years and can’t afford it. No human could be unmoved by such agony, such fear.

For more, click here.

The I-Was-Here-When-History-Was-Made View
From a relatively innocuous space for Wall Street folks to have their lunch, Zucotti Park has become the sight of national, even global, attention ever since it became the headquarters of Occupy Wall Street. And now, as the New York Times reports, the park has become New York’s latest tourist attraction, with tourists hopping on the train down to the financial district after their Broadway matinee to catch the carnival-like atmosphere of the sit-in protest.

The tourists are easy to spot: a white-haired and immaculately groomed couple picking their way across a landscape littered with blue tarpaulins; a Spanish-speaking family puzzling over the meaning of placards on display.

Liliana Orellana, 13, translated slogans on signs displayed on the ground for her seven other Spanish-speaking family members.They were visiting from Bladensburg, Md., and had stumbled upon the park on their way to ground zero, Liliana said. They had only the barest idea of what the protest was about, she said, but snapped photos to record the experience anyway.

The New York Times has more.

Also see:

Don't Underestimate Occupy Wall Street
Mock them if you want. But with the '60s counterculture's tactics long ago diluted to irrelevance, we're looking at a brand-new "business model" for populist protest.
By Conor Sen


Occupy Wall Street's Big Moment, in Tweets
By Donn Perez-Fresard

Leave us your opinion, below. What do you think of the OWS protest?

No positions in stocks mentioned.

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