Curtain Raiser

Left to Be Occupied, Colltalers

There were almost no positive things left from the 2008 financial crash caused by an out-of-control banking system. Not the least among them was the shameful impunity the culprits for the crisis have enjoyed ever since, unlike millions of working stiffs left to foot their multibillion unpaid bills.
But to this day, the Occupy Wall Street movement stands as the sole earnest popular reaction to the millions of lost jobs and the hundreds of thousands of broken families, due to the worldwide systemic failure the crisis ignited, while not one major chief of industry did time for their crimes.
However, as the roots of the quasi-bankruptcy of the economy remain pretty much in place, and banks and financial institutions have already multiplied profits to levels even higher than the pre-crisis period, the OWS has had a hard time even remaining relevant.
Before writing an obituary of the revolt and indignation against the dominance of the financial industry over all other productive segments of the economy, though, it’s instructive to dig a little bit into the likely causes that doomed the movement’s momentum, and why it’s failed to galvanize a wider swath of contemporary society, both in the U.S. and abroad, despite the clarity of its message and legitimacy of its opposition to the status quo.
For those following it closely, the most glaring of such causes has been its adamant refusal to narrow goals into a political platform, a not out-of-place concern, given the trappings and compromises inherent to the trajectory of any movement priming itself for possible electoral contention.
Another argument was about the ambiguity OWS’s briefed recognized leaders fell about, well, leading, and/or exercising some sort of political housekeeping, so to articulate its transition from a series of passionate and engaged street rallies to a muscular opposition party in the making.
This quixotic refusal, albeit noble in essence, singed the movement with the sophomoric watermark that routinely brands and undermines political ideas, hindering its ability to dialogue in equal footing, and work together, with other progressive forces of the left, which, let’s face it, was the only side of the political spectrum willing to embrace a movement staked against bankers and powerful financial interests.
And there’re those who see the OWS’s own rejection of traditional political models of resistance, right from the early discussions taking place at Zuccotti Park, as the crucial decision that doomed the movement’s long-term viability and its status as a progressive incubator of new ideas.
Obviously, such flaws in the OWS’s strategy going forward were quickly manipulated and exacerbated by the ideological right, both at the GOP and its inflamed mole, the Tea Party, along with many closet conservative Democrats, government hacks and their Wall Street benefactors.
Talking about the misnamed Tea Baggers, and their erroneously equivalence as the ‘Occupy of the right,’ at least they too seem to have exhausted all their blowhard fuel and, despite a steady flow of free cash, were crushed by the Republican establishment in last week’s primaries. Good riddance.
As if to confirm the lopsided logic of injustice and impunity that has characterized the collapse and reborn of the 1% economy, while no banker or hedge funder of note has even been trialled, the OWS has produced its first judicial martyr, if you would, in a spectacular mishandle of justice.
Cecily McMillan, despite all video evidence NOT being considered by the court, and witness accounts exempting her of wrong doing, was sentenced to three months at a high security prison, the infamous Rikers Island in New York, for a felonious assault on a police officer almost twice her size.
The incident in 2012 was but one in a number of massive NYPD interventions, promptly dispatched to disperse a growing but peaceful crowd that had begun to congregate at the park in lower Manhattan in the previous year, leading to confrontation and widespread arrests of protesters.
Since no other party took ownership of the public outrage, the street rallies became the only display of discontent about how governments of the G8 bloc planned and dealt with one of the biggest failures of the economic system in history, and the catastrophic Great Recession that followed it.
To financial officials in the U.S. and the other nations of the bloc, the way forward was a two-pronged strategy: first, inject an obscene amount of taxpayers money into the system, to prevent it from going back to the 18th century. And then, send in the cops to curb dissent.
Such ‘solution’ was not designed to address the pain that the crisis inflicted to millions around the world, of course, only of those swimming at the top. But when the movement threatened to spontaneously mushroom into a global quagmire, it became simply intolerable to the powers that be.
Ms. McMillan is a tragic victim of a system that grew stronger in the same proportion as the OWS receded in internal turmoil, and even though we used the overwrought term ‘martyr’ above, the likelihood is that she’ll become an unfortunate foot note in the much larger context of why the movement couldn’t find a way forward and become a reliable political force, or even be considered an ally to other progressive forces of society.
Much is being talked about the failure of our political and electoral system, and how much damage money, lobbying and gerrymandering may have already caused to its ability to correctly reflect the will of majority. It all will become clearer in the midterm elections later this year.
One thing is already sadly clear, though: the OWS won’t be a player. That’s puzzling because many of its themes, still resonant to a dwindling working class in the U.S., have been positively appropriated by other, more traditional, channels of political expression in the country.
That a veteran such as Senator Bernie Sanders or a neophyte as Senator Elizabeth Warren are the two most visible voices of a platform that would hold Wall Street barons to accountability, just like the OWS would want, is a testament to both the endurance and breadth of its embryonic political ideas, while, at the same time, underlines its failure to articulate the ownership of an ideological space further left than both senators could ever occupy.
To be sure, the system still remains vigilant against and highly attuned at any possibility of an unlike reborn of the OWS, as many of the surveillance and ‘fusion centers’ and an assortment of intel agencies continue to collect data on its former members and, yes, its recalcitrant leaders too.
That shows how close, for a brief moment, the OWS was of connecting with society at large and make the transition from a idealistic ragtag confluence of rebelliousness, into a coordinated grassroots movement, with at least a limited scope of influence to leverage towards progressive change.
That ship seems to have already sailed, though, and even splinter groups that originated from the initial core at Zuccotti, and later found relevance in community efforts for causes such as Hurricane Sandy and popular housing, may have been diluted into the mainstream of the institutionalized left.
It’s our loss, of course. Even though arguably the election of Bill de Blasio as Mayor of New York wouldn’t have happened with the OWS and what came after, there are very few positive things left from what could’ve been a galvanizer of public discontent in the U.S.’s most important city.
Maybe another time. Not to inject levity into a discussion that needs to be better and further articulated, it’s not completely by chance that we talk about loss today, Memorial Day in the U.S. Albeit its contrivance, the designated date of remembrance, personal and national, is still one that visits millions of Americans with heartbreak even deeper than usual. In its respect, we leave the woes afflicting the Veteran Affairs for another post. Enjoy the last week of May. WC


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