Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Taking to the Streets

With the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations gathering momentum spreading from city to city, one cannot help but marvel how remarkable these are.  Unlike in other countries like France where mass demonstrations against the government are routine, many Americans normally display indifference toward the political process.  Even in 2008 when the country was excited over the prospect of electing its first black president, the voter turnout was only about 56%. 

And in off-year elections, turnouts are much smaller. Perhaps there is an attitude here in the US that no matter whom we vote for, it really doesn’t make that much of a difference in our daily lives.  And if voting is too much trouble, certainly demonstrating in the streets is more than most people want to do.  But having said that, it’s hard to forget the demonstrations against the unpopular Vietnam War where unlike for our present wars, people were drafted to serve so indifference was not an option.

Our problems with unemployment and uneven distribution of wealth have been going on for some time now.  But most of the distress has been shared by the older people in the workplace.  After a career earning a decent living, many of these people have been discarded as being useless to the job market.  But while these people have found the road to re-employment to be a rocky one, the young college graduates have had far fewer problems – until about the last couple of years.  Now many of our college graduates are finding that they have no professional employment opportunities in their chosen fields after earning their diplomas.  And now they are on the hook for paying off sometimes massive college loans.   While those at the top of the economic food chain are doing quite well, their path to a middle class lifestyle has been shut off.  So once again indifference is not an option.

And while many compare the Occupy Wall Street movement with the Tea Party protests, there are significant differences.  Most notably, the Tea Party protests have been heavily financed by those on the political right, especially the Koch Brothers.  For more on this, please check out a previous posting The Koch Brothers - The Most Powerful People You've Never Heard Of.  With this financial support, the Tea Party has been able to work the political system to their advantage.

By contrast, the Occupy movement has been about calling to our attention that our political system is broken.  The power being wielded by those with the most money to buy control of our government is overshadowing any control that ordinary citizens have by way of the vote.  It has even led to outside observers such as the German magazine, Der Spiegel to ask Has America Become an Oligarchy?

The Occupy Wall Street movement is just one example of the sudden outbreak of tension between America's super-rich and the "other 99 percent." Experts now say the US has entered a second Gilded Age, but one in which hedge fund managers have replaced oil barons -- and are killing the American dream.

At first, the outraged members of the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York were mainly met with ridicule. They didn't seem to stand a chance and were judged incapable of going up against their adversaries, Wall Street's bankers and financial managers, either intellectually or in terms of economic knowledge.

Indeed, they have given shape to a development in the country that has been growing more acute for decades, one that numerous academics and experts have tried to analyze elsewhere in lengthy books and essays. It's a development so profound and revolutionary that it has shaken the world's most powerful nation to its core.
Just for this alone, we owe a debt of gratitude to the courageous people who are participating in these demonstrations and are in some cases enduring police brutality and pepper spray for a cause they believe in – a cause called democracy!