As markets fall, dragging countries with them, cities around the world are lighting up with frustration, helplessness and fury both understandable and unintelligible.
Explosions of cruelty – usually on the side of police and dictatorships against those with understandable anxieties – haunt the headlines. Amid this, the Occupy Wall Street protests unfolding in New York City (and now nationwide in Canada) have gained public attention since they began Sept. 17.
With no central leadership, the protests were planned with a vague goal of holding the financial sector responsible for the damage it inflicted on world markets. A myriad of different aims drive the protests, such as demands for an end to the intimate relationships between governments and banks, along with bringing attention to the ever-growing disparity between rich and poor.
Their claims are real. The need for something new is obvious. Since 2001, 75 per cent of American corporate profit margins have come from depressed wages, according to J.P. Morgan. The Institute for Policy Studies reports that in 1961, U.S. corporations had a tax rate of 40.6 per cent. Since then, the rate has fallen to 10.5 per cent. Hypocrisy is rampant; conservatives frothing about debt ignore the fact that 71 per cent of American debt has been accumulated under Republican presidents, according to Harper’s Magazine. Banks were essentially rewarded for risky behaviour instead of changing the roots of the system which allow what are sophisticated pyramid schemes to thrive.
There are terrible things happening, but no one seems to know the cause. There are triumphs everywhere and no one can say why. That much is clear from OWS’ failure to bring a single coherent demand against its many enemies. Even while satellite protests spring up in Spain, Los Angeles, Tel Aviv and Montreal, there is little sense that the activists in New York are sparking the Egyptian-style popular uprising which inspired OWS.
No one can say what it is being fought for. Some want to overturn the government. Others want the rich to pay more taxes. Some simply don’t want to have the enormous burden of school debt. The protests remain largely meaningless to the depoliticized majority of Americans absent from the protests. Even with support from labour unions, their aims are sporadic as ever.
Protesters point out the stark contrast between mainstream media’s near-total blackout of occupation coverage and the oversaturation of anything Tea Party-related, yet when the public gets glimpses of the protests, the protesters seem as unrealistic and misguided as the Tea Party members rambling about the need to abolish the federal government.
OWS is steadily becoming a mirror image of the Tea Party bringing together frightened, angry citizens looking for someone to blame for the economic storms eating away at their communities. While Tea Party members call for tax cuts, OWS calls for the rich to pay more.
It remains to be seen whether OWS will be the catalyst for the peaceful, popular uprising it desires just as the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt were once terrible gambles.