By/Van Politics and protest/Politiek en protest

Occupy Wall Street

Uit: Stuyvesant Diaries

October 9, 2011

Yesterday was dominated by my desire to see the circus of Occupy Wall Street at Zuccotti Park / Liberty Square.
We went there twice, once between 3 and 5 pm and another time at sunset, to witness the march. But we only managed to see its triumphal return, young people carrying placards and shouting Behead the Fed! Behead the Fed!
The first impression of the sit-in was rather déjà vu: the hippy atmosphere, the bad, amateurish art, the Cuban rhythms of chanting; also the intellectual (and Jewish) faces watching and approving.
Then some corrective sets in. The longtime bohemian aspect is superficial. These people are mainly young and rather well-educated. They seem not to be preordained losers, but frustrated winners. They appear to be thoughtful and disciplined. In their values they refer to the American Constitution and the Bible. They protest in the name of Christian and democratic values like equality and justice. They are angry because of unfulfilled hopes, like seeing Obama stopped in the dead ends of Washington.
They have looked well at the youth protests of the Indignados in Madrid, the revolted, the indignant. They have been taught by the Arab Spring of Tunis and Cairo. We saw an Egyptian delegation from Tahrir Square arrive in solidarity. OWS seems to be an amplifier of global sentiments.
The predominant feeling is that the American Dream has been hijacked by the rich, the 1%. Their sin is to be egoistical, to be driven by greed. “WE ARE THE 99%!” is a most effective slogan against them. It is meaningful and hits home.
Rather than with the sixties (the years of the baby-boom and growth and emancipation) the mood is comparable with that of the thirties, that of the Great Depression, the social upheaval, with Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his programs. At Zuccotti I bought The Manifest, a traditional paper of socialism in America, bilingual in Spanish and English. I paid 1 dollar to a woman who could have been of the same world views as my mother.
As to the techniques of communication these youngsters are modern, media savvy. There is a press center that seems to function well, both technically and professionally. Their main channels are Twitter and Facebook, while they also edit a newspaper at times. I took one, The Occupied Wall Street Journal/ issue 2. The official newspapers seem to be catching up only slowly at the moment and seem to lag structurally behind. OWS communicates through the social media. They claim 300,000 sympathizers and hundreds of local support centers.
So far, there have been only a few serious commentators. Richard Schechner, a professor at New York University, urges his students to go and look. Because since the Students for Democracy movement in the sixties he has not observed anything comparable.
Though it does not seem to attract the attention of Washington yet, OWS could in my eyes become the left wing equivalent of the Tea Party.

October 12, 2011

Three days later.
We passed the circus of Zuccotti Park again, now heavily isolated by the police department with metal railings along the sidewalks, blocks of concrete on the streets, parked police cars galore and lots of police in riot gear. It was still early in the morning and perhaps because of that it looked altogether somewhat calmer.
Nevertheless the demonstrators seem to have angered the Republican top-brass. The leader of the majority in the House of Representatives announces that he will not succumb to mob rule. He may have had some experience in caving in to the Tea Party. On Fox News I heard a commentator describe the protesters as a collection of communists and fascists. Mayor Bloomberg, himself a multimillionaire, who was initially tending to order the park swept clean, on the other hand shows enough sangfroid to tolerate the occupation for a while.
Meanwhile the protest increases in size. The commentators are becoming more significant, like Paul Krugman in The New York Times and Herman Herzberg in The New Yorker. In Washington democratic politicians seem to wake up. Obama talks about the protesters with some understanding. Trendy philosophers like Zizek and Butler or the filmmaker Michael Moore have appeared at the park.
A much voiced criticism is that the youngsters may be morally indignant, but present no political program.

October 15, 2011 

In the ten days that I have been here the protests have been spreading. From what started as a small occupation of Zuccotti Park in the Financial District, Occupy Wall Street has now become a global phenomenon.
Two hundred, one hundred years ago this type of rebellion could be contained locally and smothered. Not today, when everybody is linked into wider networks. Still, to turn this into a global issue, more is needed, it should already have been one. Revolutions do no arise from the media.
What we are seeing is a worldwide condition that is revealing itself through protests. The condition that resonates throughout the world is the demise of labor.
Already when we visited the few hundred protesters a week ago it struck me that they were not just the marginal ones, the bohemians, the fringe, but articulate, well-educated young people, who had gone there as a last resort. If they would have had a job, they would not have been there. Mentally they were standing with their backs to the wall. Their parents had been paying a fortune to give them a future. Or they themselves. It is this condition of hopelessness which fires the protesters in Madrid, in Manhattan, the Middle East.
It is not old slogans that make them risk their limbs. It is a feeling that society should not be so unjust as to give them no hope of becoming part of the labor force. This seems not to be a revolt of the lazy, but of the busy who are condemned to become lazy.
So I would say, the old question which was shelved and obscured by neoliberal cant is back: what is more important to people, capital or labor?
As capitalism has been very successful in exploring new markets, and providing new jobs while shedding old ones, the conflict between labor and capital seemed resolved. But the basic tendency of late capitalism, to ignore labor as a value and only regard it as a cost, made capitalism turn into jobless growth. Or even worse, into a world of profit on capital and lack of income from labor.
The eagerness with which investors were ready to provide capital for low cost labor countries and to deindustrialize developed countries like the UK and the USA was amazingly candid. Shanghai blossomed from foreign investment, while Detroit became a wasteland. And the little income the working people were left with was made to suffice by fast food, cheap products from China, and a house on credit.
The immense risk which the investors were not aware of was not so much that capitalism was equalizing the labor markets downwards, but that it was impoverishing their own countries and populations while enriching themselves as a global class.
The neoliberal obsession with government as a negative factor did blind them to the fact that by separating capital from labor they were sawing off the branch on which they rested. Which is the voice of the voters, the majority. The hatred of government turned them against their best protector. They did think they did not have to count on democracy.
Now the boomerang is back and jobless consumers are besieging the profit makers.

October 16, 2011

I may be here at an important moment in the mood swings of Americans.
Shortly after my arrival Occupy Wall Street began to widen into a general critique of the injustices of the economic system.
Not only because it did not furnish jobs, but also because it did not fulfill its promise of profit for all. The outcome was inequality. Democracy was subverted by lobbies.
It is true that some sense of security had returned regarding the protection of America against foreign threats. Shortly before, the commemoration of ten years after 9/11 had laid to rest the most acute part of the shock Americans had felt. Osama bin Laden had been killed. The reconstruction of the Ground Zero site was proceeding successfully. Just today, after half a century, Martin Luther King was commemorated by a big and ugly monument in Washington D.C. And the black president spoke, more or less recovering his voice as the conscience of a more hopeful America.
And yet all of a sudden Wall Street looks greedy, the Tea Party silly, the Republicans white and ugly, as if a light had been switched on and reveals reality.
Perhaps I am looking at this spectacle with all too secular, too sceptic and too factual eyes. Maybe the Americans will stick to their evangelical cant. But I cannot believe that the last two weeks have not altered the way the voters now look at Obama.
Yesterday we participated in the rally at Times Square. Several groups were protesting: the ecologists, the anticapitalists, the students, the unemployed, the migrants. Some had been demonstrating at Washington Square in SoHo before, or at Zuccotti Park in the Financial District. They arrived on foot in processions. We even met a friend of KS who came from a student demonstration in Washington D.C. that morning, had then taken the train to demonstrate here in the afternoon. Initially I estimated the crowd to number 5000, towards the end double that or more.
The police were out in great force. And in quite unnecessary gear, some even being on horseback. One of the horses slipped and fell, causing panic. They made a point of keeping the traffic flowing through 42nd street and 7th avenue. They bottled up many demonstrators in 46th street. It was owing to the patient behavior of the protesters that only a few scuffles broke out and only 88 people were arrested. Something ugly is always present in the sight of these wide-bottomed and overbatoned officers. But even more ugly was to see the American power play in the world being turned on their own peaceful population. In the future it could easily provoke riots.
We came early and so were able to slowly circle the whole area, crossing barricades, avoiding police blocs, getting stuck in partial condensations of action, where everybody including Kengie was chanting slogans in unison.








Some funny aspects were only revealed when the demonstration disassembled around 7 pm. An imitator of Sarah Palin in red dress and very convincing, with her typical strutting. A blindfolded woman in a long white dress imitating a statue of justice, with a balance and a sword. A big model of a drone reconnaissance and attack plane. Even the Naked Cowboy, a tourist attraction, became visible again.
To my astonishment today I seem to appear in a photograph of The New York Times, looking on. I remember the man standing in front of me and the long black car passing. I mused within all this tension, standing there, how few demonstrations I had been to and how few I had been willing to support in my life. This one I could, though I did not really join.
This impressive outpouring of frustration may well lead to nothing if it loses itself in quasi-religious terms, like greed versus charity. It will become effective only if it manages to name and shame specific politicians. Not only in the Republican Party. It has to translate into the vote. But a change of mood seems underway.