People Power: Occupy Wall Street Movement

October 27, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The Canadian Charger

2011-10-26T074901Z_1864182193_GM1E7AQ17ZP01_RTRMADP_3_USA-WALLSTREET

An “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrator chants during a demonstration in response to an early morning police raid which displaced Occupy Oakland’s tent city in Oakland, California October 25, 2011.

REUTERS/Stephen Lam

In the United States – the world’s lone superpower and a beacon of hope for many the world over – 14 million people are officially unemployed and two million of those have given up looking for a job. And that’s the tip of the iceberg: half a million people are homeless; nearly 50 million people are without health insurance; and 46 million Americans live below the poverty rate, yet banks and large corporations received billion dollar bailouts from taxpayers’ hard-earned money and bank executives never stopped receiving million dollar bonuses, on top of their seven figure incomes.

In response, the Occupy Wall Street movement – in the midst of its fourth week – continues to escalate, protesting against corporate greed, government inefficiency and income inequality. Many people are debating what the real message of this movement is and, more importantly, what impact it will have on the country itself.

Writing in the New York Times recently, Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman said: “With unions and a growing number of Democrats now expressing at least qualified support for the protesters, Occupy Wall Street is starting to look like an important event that might even been seen eventually as a turning point.”

Of course, as with most controversial issues, the end of the political spectrum one is viewing the events from greatly influences one’s interpretation of said events. Speaking on the television show Cross Talk recently, radio talk show host and Tea Party organizer Tony Katz said that the Occupy Wall Street movement looked like a bunch of anarchists and he cautioned that the movement has the potential to turn violent.

Jason Del Gandio, assistant professor of rhetoric and public advocacy at Temple University, responded that the Occupy Wall Street movement is a nonviolent movement, expressing a deep desire for democracy that responds to the wants and needs of everyday people, not corporations.

Sensing the growing popularity of the movement, President Obama and his team are now saying that the demonstrators have a point; but with a team of Wall Street veterans as advisors, making all the important economic decisions that Obama lacks the expertise to make, the demonstrators consider Obama to be part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Meanwhile, on Cross Talk, Kevin Zeese, a political activist and one of the organizers of www.October2011.org said he and many others in the Occupy Wall Street movement see the Obama White House as part of the crony, capitalist, corrupt economy which has resulted in 400 people having as much wealth as 154 million – not because they’re smarter or work harder but because they’re politically connected and essentially bribing through campaign donations.

“Our goal is to shift the power to the people and end the corporate rule. Corporate rule does affect the cost of college; corporate rule does put our students in the greatest debt they’ve ever been in. They’re coming into a job market that’s absolutely terrible. These kids are in the streets because they’re being treated poorly by this economy…The empire economy with 1100 military bases around the world is not good for the United States; it’s not good for our national security; it’s not good for our democracy; it’s not good for our economy. We need to remove the power of corporations.”

Similar to the G20 protests, where citizens were expressing legitimate concerns about government policies, a minority of protesters always engage in destructive – and at times unlawful – conduct; and unfortunately it’s these acts that tend to make the evening news, and become the focus of right wing commentators. Not surprisingly, this is what Tea Party organizer Mr. Katz sees when watching the Occupy Wall Street movement.

“If you take a look from the outside looking in, it looks like a bunch of people who don’t care about the land, who are willing to abuse businesses around them and defecate on police cars. That’s the evidence base. You’re not going to get the Tea Party to favor a concept where everyone gets paid for doing nothing. We don’t accept that. We believe in capitalism; we believe in the free market; we believe you should keep what you earn. Governments shouldn’t get what you earn and Wall Street shouldn’t get what you earn. You should keep what you earn.”

The mantra of a free market is constantly trotted out by the right, as they continuously demand that government get out of the way of business and let the market decide. However, the reality is often quite different: Columbia University professor and Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz pointed out in his book Free Fall, that over many years, governments have had to continuously bail out banks and large corporations when their bets went sour. And the current crisis is just a part of this continuum.

Mr. Del Gandio, and many others, can see this.

“Do we actually live in a free market society? Because the last time I looked it was the richest corporations and the richest banks on the face of the planet that were getting bailouts. So it’s communism for the rich and capitalism for the poor. We do not live in a free market society. That’s a myth. We’ve never lived in a free market society. It’s always privileged the rich,” Mr. Del Gandio said.

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Occupy W Street Growing

October 13, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Boston Correspondent Karin Friedemann reports on growing “Occupy Boston” phenomenon

By Karin Friedemann, TMO

abramSince the end of September, hundreds of protesters under the banner “Occupy Boston” have set up camp in downtown Boston, Massachusetts to support the ongoing “Occupy Wall Street” protests in New York. Their demands are varied, but seem to be focused on unemployment, rising food prices, and the unfairness of billions of dollars of tax money being spent on useless wars and bank bailouts while the American dream of home ownership and “a chicken in every pot” steadily dies, as ordinary citizens lose their financial security.

Tents have filled up a public park while crowds chant slogans such as “Tax the Rich,” hold up hand made signs and fill the air with music and drumming. Celebrities have come to perform, and the homeless have been receiving free food and clothing. Compared to the scene in New York, Occupy Boston is enjoying a festive atmosphere despite the chilly weather, free of tension without any hint of police brutality. Various people drop by with donations of money, food, blankets and kind words, while the number of campers continues to grow.

The mayor of Boston, Thomas Menino and the governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick have decided that there will be no arrests of protesters and have in fact stated publicly that they support the right of citizens to express their opinions. The protesters have been told they are free to camp out as long as they choose.

Media criticism has focused on the cost upon taxpayers to pick up the garbage and provide the tent city with electricity. It is highly probable that the City of Boston has decided to avoid the bad press that comes along with police violence against angry mobs. It is also much cheaper to provide these very basic services to the protesters than to arrest and detain them and then pay for all of them to go to trial and provide them all with court-appointed lawyers. Furthermore, there might be some quiet agreement with the slogan “Tax the Rich” among many in the leadership, for this is one of the principles upon which the State of Massachusetts operates, as the only state in the US that provides free health insurance to the lower middle class.

Massachusetts is already well-known as the US state which takes the best care of its poorer citizens out of its wealthy tax base, providing government-subsidized child care starting from the age of one month, after school and summer programs for teens, nearly free sports programs, food and cash aid and reduced housing prices for the poor. Yet it is still not enough for everyone to feel secure. The working middle class is hardest hit by the economy since they do not qualify for most of these programs and often go into debt trying to provide for their families due to medical bills, childcare or the high price of gasoline.

Occupy Boston is not your usual group of punks and hippies with nothing else to do but complain. The movement has been joined by college students, nurses, pilots, and other workers. As I drove on the highway today past the electrical workers’ union I saw a fancy electrical sign reading “We the People Occupy Boston.”

America’s largest labor union, the AFL-CIO with 11 million members has backed the growing movement, stating: “The Wall Street banks and the largest corporations refuse to pay their fair share of taxes while our infrastructure crumbles. They sit on record profits while the rest of the country suffers, and they still refuse to put people back to work.”

The Boston Herald reports that many of the elderly are showing their support. A retired 71-year-old gentleman, who ran his own corporate headhunting firm, visited the tent village yesterday afternoon to advise the young people to focus on making clearer demands. “I’d like to see the group more focused on applying pressure to specific areas,” he stated.

Some feel it makes no sense using so much personal energy to speak out against such a vague term as “Corporate Greed” without actually naming names of bankers or lobbyists who should go to jail, for example, or demanding some specific reforms of the process of electing public officials. Specifically, Occupy Boston could use its voice to demand universal health care for all of Massachusetts, a measure that would even save the rich thousands of dollars a year. MassHealth is the best health insurance in America, with zero co-payments and even free replacements for broken eyeglasses. Preventing disease is so much less costly than treating it.

Occupy Boston is a unique and bizarre political situation, where banks and financial corporations have opened their doors to the hundreds of anti-bank anti-corporation protesters to let them use the toilet. The unrest seems to be good for local capitalism, since all these people have to eat. One of America’s leading pro-Israel advocates Rabbi Michael Lerner has been actively recruiting Jews to participate in the protests – perhaps to steer the conversation away from cutting US aid to Israel, which would be an obvious way to quickly make more money available to the masses of disgruntled Americans.

Even more contradictory are the conflicting views of the people involved. Right-wing Libertarian protesters demand an end to the credit-based economy and want to return to the Gold Standard, while the Leftists and Liberals simply want to steer more borrowed government money into improving and expanding welfare programs. But most are in agreement that jobs are more important than foreign wars and that the government needs to focus more on its citizens not the demands of corporate lobbyists.

Karin Friedemann is a Boston-based freelance writer

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