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Anne Russell: 99% Mad As Hell: Occupying Everywhere

99% Mad As Hell: Occupying Everywhere

By Anne Russell
October 8, 2011

Emir Hodzic - Occupy Wall St: New Zealander Arrested on Brooklyn Bridge

A recent press release from the U.S. State Department on developing countries contained the phrase “committed to democracy and open markets”. According to capitalist logic, freer markets make freer people. Since corporations are legally people now, I suppose this makes a warped kind of sense.

The people—the real flesh-and-blood We The People—don’t like that logic anymore. As a protest sign said: “I won’t believe corporations are people until Texas executes one.” Thousands of Americans are at the end of their rope with corporate impunity Occupy Wall Street has entered its 21st day, and is growing ever stronger. NYC students and workers have swelled its ranks, and copycat movements have sprung up across the country.

Critics are quite cross that Occupy Wall Street activists haven’t already come up with a tidy set of demands for change. They’re missing the point. Politics where people draw up a numbered list of requests for someone else to implement, please sir, plainly doesn’t work anymore. The people want to be included at the decision-making table; shockingly enough, they’re demanding to actively participate in their democracy.

Even if Occupy Wall Street wanted to politely request socio-economic reform, its demands could not possibly be drawn up overnight. Getting a huge movement to agree on an objective is always tricky, but the American case is perhaps even more difficult than most. Leaving aside what they want, part of the problem is figuring out who they want to change things.

If the Occupy movements indeed copy the Arab Spring, what happens in the U.S. is going to be quite different from Tunisia or Egypt. The financial oppression Americans suffer, leaving many jobless and starving, does not always come from the government. U.S. activists are fighting two titanic institutions: the government and Wall Street.

Oppression in capitalistic ‘free’ countries is subtler than that of government-based authoritarian regimes. There is no cult of personality in the U.S. equal to the Dear Leader in North Korea. Whatever the Tea Party claims, Obama has not really painted himself as the Messiah; neither the Republican nor the Democrat Parties actively demand worship from their constituency. Rather, Obama is like an ineffectual substitute teacher; as far as he’s concerned the kids can do what they like. If the corporate bullies come out on top and steal everyone’s lunch money, well, that’s just the way it goes. They have a fairly tight control over the classroom these days: when Google has the wherewithal to pull out of China the corporation has essentially become a country unto itself.

Much of the harm done to the American economy comes from lax regulation, where government sits back and lets big business run wild. (Neoliberal economists say that if we deregulate more then the economy will right itself…perhaps we could also get drunk and try downing shots of absinthe to sober up.) People are so used to seeing authoritarian government over-regulation that it’s hard to see how ‘freedom’ can result in oppression.

The 99 percent, as they call themselves, have seen it. They have woken up, and the powers that be don’t like it. Occupy Wall Street has clearly alarmed billionaire NYC Mayor Bloomberg, who is sending out the White Shirts of the NYPD to arrest protesters in droves. This doesn’t happen at Tea Party rallies, since most Tea Partiers just want the government to lay off (at least in regard to the economy). The government is eager to oblige—much easier to arrest a few hundred demonstrators now than attempt to take financial giants to court.

The protesters are in a bit of a fix—they alone can’t stand up against frighteningly powerful unelected plutocrats for long, but do they really want this government to police the corporations? The U.S. government—made up of sort-of-elected plutocrats—is hardly a better friend to the people. U.S. Presidents have happily abused their power to spy on the population and wage unconstitutional wars, and show no sign of changing the electoral system to anything vaguely resembling democracy.

Maybe this is the point when the people finally demand electoral reform. Or maybe this is the start of full-scale revolt. Even the Tea Partiers have been pretending to revolt for a couple of years, so it’s theoretically possible they’ll join the Occupiers. Even if The Revolution happens, though, eventually some kind of government will come back up. Most people don’t have the time, expertise or interest to make self-governance happen, so they settle for a handful of elected officials to do administration for them.

The Occupy movements have the slightly uncomfortable position of essentially being pro-government protesters. Hopefully it’ll be a new way of governance, where the people have more say in how their employees spend their taxes. It’s not yet clear where Occupy Wall Street is going to lead, but for the moment its lack of precision is a strength. The opposition can’t divert them into specific detail or pick off figureheads, because there are none. All Occupy Wall Streeters know is they’re mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore.

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