Days Of Rage Signal The Onset Of Change
With thousands worldwide joining the Occupy Wall Street protests against corporate greed and irresponsibility, this is no longer a movement confined to leftists and ageing hippies. Is this the tipping point when the discourse will change, asks Mari Marcel Thekaekara
The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests which began on September 17 have spread beyond the wildest dreams of both the organisers, as well as the critics, those prophets of doom—editors included—who sought to dismiss and disparage the OWS as the usual loony left ravings and aging hippie nostalgia.
A group of Americans disillusioned with ‘The Dream’ gone sour, decided to take a stand. They marched to Downtown Manhattan and pitched tents near Wall Street in Zucotti Park, now renamed Freedom Plaza, famous the world over. They announced to all who cared to listen, and mostly to their government and financial institutions, that they were the 99 per cent of Americans fed up of the fact that the last few decades have made the 1 per cent richer in an almost obscene manner, leaving the others, the 99 per cent, the rest of America, struggling to merely survive.
On October 22, a little over a month after it all began, thousands of Americans, young, old, some with children in tow, of all ethnicities and races, flooded New York’s iconic Times Square, bastion of capitalism, to announce a “global day of rage” against the corrupt, greedy system which has given everything to the 1 per cent and left Americas’s 99 per cent unemployed and terrified of another recession.
Three years ago, America celebrated Obama’s historic, meteoric rise as President. He gave them “the audacity of hope” along with charisma and promises. To be sure, Obama inherited a doomed legacy—decades of deficit, crippling wars, a nosediving economy, all a surefire recipe for disaster. The dream had faded long before Obama. It took Wall Street and the manmade recession, to bring things to a head. Slowly, the anti-capitalist movement has grown to include the mainstream—the pensioners left stunned that after a lifetime of hard work, their life savings have disappeared into bankers’ million-dollar perk packets while they are told ‘too bad’! Students left with enormous loans to repay and no jobs in the foreseeable future. Families with mortgages looming over their heads, living in fear of foreclosure leaving them homeless and jobless. Suddenly, it’s mainstream America, not just the commies who are taking another look at capitalism’s failure.
This is why the OWS has spread to places as diverse as Portland in Oregon, Los Angeles and San Francisco in California, Houston and Austin in Texas. The disaffected, and therefore protesting, are in every corner of the country. The movement has gained credibility because ordinary families have joined it, as have unexpected supporters such as war veterans and US Marines. An Iraq War veteran, Scott Olsen, from the US Marines is in a critical condition after “being hit in the head by a police projectile” on October 25. The very next day, on October 26 (day 40 of the protest) hundreds of OWS protesters marched near Union Square in support of Olsen who was still in intensive care.
When asked about OWS, Barack Obama replied: “I think it expresses the frustrations the American people feel, that we had the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, huge collateral damage all throughout the country…… and yet you’re still seeing some of the same folks who acted irresponsibly trying to fight efforts to crack down on the abusive practices that got us into this in the first place.”
The protests have gone international. YouTube and Twitter have spread the word to every corner of the globe making OWS go viral. People everywhere, inspired by the live coverage, are expressing common cause. Reports have come in describing solidarity sit-ins and protests in countries as diverse as South Africa, Hong Kong, Indonesia, India, Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, Austria, Belgium, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, England, Estonia, Finland, France, Italy, Macedonia, Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Scotland, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Uruguay, Canada, Australia, New Zealand. In most places, the protests have remained peaceful. But in Rome, the protests turned violent after rioters hijacked a peaceful gathering causing an estimated $1.4 million of damage. By October 25, Egyptian activists who helped topple former dictator Hosni Mubarak lent their support to the growing Occupy movement, releasing a statement in solidarity with the occupiers.
Occupy London began in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street protest on October 15, 2011. It has established two encampments in the City of London, one outside St Paul’s Cathedral and the other in Finsbury Square. The Occupy London protests are backed by the tax avoidance protest group UK Uncut.
Occupy London officially announced that it is an ongoing peaceful protest and demonstration against economic inequality, social injustice, corporate greed and the influence of companies and lobbyists on government taking place in Britain. Within a week, the numbers swelled. Currently, upto 2,500-3,000 people have gathered outside St Paul’s Cathedral, with around 250 camping overnight.
It’s an exciting, happening place to be. Colourful, cheerful, cosmopolitan. Around mid-afternoon on the 15th, Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, gave an impromptu speech to the protesters on the topic of anonymity after he was challenged by police for wearing a mask as he walked to the protest.
Occupy London has caused a deep divide at the highest levels of church and state. On the Sunday morning after the protests began, the canon of St Paul’s, Reverend Giles Fraser, asked the police to leave the cathedral steps, saying he was happy for people to “exercise their right to protest”. The dean of St Paul’s however was unhappy with the encampments on his doorstep for over two weeks and favoured eviction through legal measures. On October 27, Canon Giles Fraser resigned over disagreements on the handling of the demonstrators, saying “I resigned because I believe that the chapter has set on a course of action that could mean there will be violence in the name of the church.”
On October 31, Dr Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury, intervened after the dean of the cathedral became the third member of staff to resign. Indicating his support for the anti-capitalists’ aims, the archbishop said: “The urgent larger issues raised by the protesters at St Paul’s remain very much on the table.” Progressive clergy in the Christian church believe Christ wanted a “kingdom of justice” and the church should naturally be on the side of the protestors.
A list of demands has been carefully drafted attempting to take back democracy, introduce accountability and transparency in financial systems and governance. Nicholas Shaxson the author of Treasure Islands, a book about the world of tax evasion described the demands as “incredibly powerful”.
“The City is something that has flown under the radar for so long, people have occasionally noticed the pomp and ceremony of the City but never really grasped what it is. This is a medieval commune dating back 1,000 years which represents the interests of international finance.”
Shaxson added: “If you go to the City they will say, ‘We’re just a poor little local authority with a few thousand souls don’t worry about us.’ But their influence runs far and deep both in the UK and overseas and they have supporters all over the place. They’re not going to go away any time soon.”
In the US too, there is fear and apprehension in high places, among powerful people who have lived lives protected from demonstrators and dissidents. Before OWS, protestors were ridiculed and brushed off. Now, with more and more voters joining the movement, there will definitely be a change in the discourse.
If 99 per cent of the populace decide they want change, something has to give. There’s hope for the future, after all.