Thursday, October 13, 2011

occupy wall street vs. the tea party

black and white?
What's up with Occupy Wall Street? Just a bunch of hippies? A group of whiny complainers? Or the mirror image of the Tea Party: a radical, ideology-driven, left-wing political movement?

The top 1 percent have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but [...] their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live.

Let's see what some commentators are saying (italics refer to quotes, see sources at the end).

The Tea Party

The Tea Party, for all its apparent populism, revolves around a vision of power and how to attain it. Tea Partiers tend to be white, male, Republican, graying, married and comfortable; the political system once worked for them, and they think it can be made to do so again. They revile government, but they adore hierarchy and order. [1]

Occupy Wall Street: The Differences?

In contrast, what should we make of Occupy Wall Street? The movement is, of course, nascent, and growing: on Oct. 5, it picked up thousands of marching supporters of all ages, many from unions, professions and universities, and crowded Foley Square. Its equivalents rallied in 50 cities. Deep anger at grotesque inequities extends far beyond this one encampment; after all, a few handfuls of young activists do not have a monopoly on the fight against plutocracy. Revulsion in the face of a perverse economy is felt by many respectable people: unemployed, not yet unemployed, shakily employed and plain disgusted. A month from now, this movement, still busy being born, could look quite different. [1]

Occupy Wall Street, then, emanates from a culture — strictly speaking, a counterculture — that is diametrically opposed to Tea Party discipline. [1]

[For Tea Partiers] the tents and untucked shirts, the tattoos, piercings and dreadlocks [...] are eye candy for lazy journalists. [1]

Is it any surprise that Fox News and its allied bloggers consider the protesters “deluded” and “dirty smelly hippies”? [1]

Occupy Wall Street: The Commonalities?

As more than a few observers have noted, the Occupy Wall Street chant, “We Are the 99 Percent” — a shot across the bow of the wealthiest 1 percent of the country, which includes the financial predators and confidence gamers who crashed the global economy with impunity — seems synonymous with the Tea Party’s “Take Back America” ethos. [1]

Until now, fury at the plutocracy and the political class had found no channel to run in but the antigovernment fantasies of the Tea Party. Now it has dug a new channel. [1]

The Motivation? 

As protests have spread from Lower Manhattan to cities and towns across the country, they have made clear that indignation against corporate greed and economic inequality is real and deep. But at least equally important is the protest against the lack -- or failure -- of political representation. It is not so much a question of whether this or that politician, or this or that party, is ineffective or corrupt (although that, too, is true) but whether the representational political system more generally is inadequate. [2]

One obvious and clear message of the protests, of course, is that the bankers and finance industries in no way represent us: What is good for Wall Street is certainly not good for the country (or the world).

Confronting the crisis and seeing clearly the way it is being managed by the current political system, young people populating the various encampments are, with an unexpected maturity, beginning to pose a challenging question: If democracy -- that is, the democracy we have been given -- is staggering under the blows of the economic crisis and is powerless to assert the will and interests of the multitude, then is now perhaps the moment to consider that form of democracy obsolete? [2]

How Political Is Anarchy?

And yet it remains true that the core of the movement, the (mostly young and white, skilled but jobless) people who started the “occupation” three weeks ago, consists of what right-wing critics call anarchists. Indeed, some occupiers take the point as a compliment — because that is precisely the quality that sets them apart from the Tea Party. [1]

In this recent incarnation, anarchism, for the most part, is not so much a theory of the absence of government, but a theory of self-organization, or direct democracy, as government. The idea is that you do not need institutions because the people, properly assembled, properly deliberating, even in one square block of Lower Manhattan, can regulate themselves. [1]

The culture of anarchy is right about this: The corporate rich — those ostensible “job creators” who somehow haven’t gotten around to creating jobs — rule the Republican Party and much of the Democratic Party as well, having artfully arranged a mutual back-scratching society to enrich themselves. A refusal to compromise with this system, defined by its hierarchies of power and money, would be the current moment of anarchy’s great, lasting contribution. [1]

The Tools?

It is no surprise that [Occupy Wall Street] makes fervent use of the technologies of horizontal communication, of Facebook and Twitter, though the instinct predated — perhaps prefigured — those tools. Not coincidentally, this was also the spirit of the more or less leaderless, partyless revolutions of Tunisia and Egypt that are claimed as inspiration in Lower Manhattan. An “American Autumn” is their shot at an echo of the “Arab Spring.” [1]

The Message?

Not sure where this came from, but it was making the rounds on Facebook:

  1. End the Collusion Between Government and Large Corporations/Banks, So That Our Elected Leaders Are Actually Representing the Interests of the People (the 99%) and Not Just Their Rich Donors (the 1%).
  2. Investigate Wall Street and Hold Senior Executives Accountable for the Destruction in Wealth that has Devastated Millions of People.
  3. Return the Power of Coining Money to the U.S. Treasury and Return to Sound Money.
  4. Limit the Size, Scope and Power of Banks so that None are Ever "Too Big to Fail" and in Need to Taxpayer Bailouts.
  5. Eliminate "Personhood" Legal Status for Corporations.
  6. Repeal the Patriot Act, End the War on Drugs and Protect Civil Liberties.
  7. End All Imperial Wars of Aggression, Bring the Troops Home from All Countries, Cut the Military Budget and Limit The Military Role to Protection of the Homeland.

What is the "real democracy" they propose? The clearest clues lie in the internal organization of the movements themselves -- specifically, the way the encampments experiment with new democratic practices. These movements have all developed according to what we call a "multitude form" and are characterized by frequent assemblies and participatory decision-making structures." [2]

In a Nutshell?

So this activist movement appears to be about expressing one's resentment against the status quo of the corporate and (to some extent) political power-structures that are perceived as the source of inequality and responsible for the current economic crisis. It is an ad hoc, decentralized, multifaceted, self-organizing movement, using social media to organize. By now, there is no social class, geographical region, religious affiliation or explicit goal associated with it. One defining trait is perhaps the dominance of young people. The formulation of goals is an emergent process and bottom-up. Indeed, the movement is not only spreading across the US, but also to other countries...

So, What About Greed and Inequality?

Read more in the next post...

[3] Post on slashdot


Update 15.10.11

CNN:  Occupy protests spread around the world; 70 injured in Rome


Update 26.10.11

As the above quotes can be put off as ideology-driven, here some more quotes from the authoritative Economist magazine, in its current issue. From the article Rage against the machine, October 22:
Yet even if the protests are small and muddled, it is dangerous to dismiss the broader rage that exists across the West. There are legitimate deep-seated grievances. Young people – and not just those on the streets – are likely to face higher taxes, less generous benefits and longer working lives than their parents. More immediately, houses are expensive, credit hard to get and jobs scarce – not just in old manufacturing industries but in the ritzier services that attract increasingly debt-laden graduates. In America 17.1% of those below 25 are out of work. Across the European Union, youth unemployment averages 20.9%. In Spain it is a staggering 46.2%. Only in Germany, the Netherlands and Austria is the rate in single digits. It is not just the young who feel squeezed. The middle-aged face falling real wages and diminished pension rights. And the elderly are seeing inflation eat away the value of their savings; in Britain prices are rising by 5.2% but bank deposits yield less than 1%. In the meantime, bankers are back to huge bonuses.
To the man-in-the-street, all this smacks of a system that has failed. Neither of the main Western models has much political credit at the moment. European social democracy promised voters benefits that societies can no longer afford. The Anglo-Saxon model claimed that free markets would create prosperity; many voters feel instead that they got a series of debt-fuelled asset bubbles and an economy that was rigged in favour of a financial elite, who tookall the proceeds in the good times and then left everybody else with no alternative other than to bail them out. To use one of the protesters’ better slogans, the 1% have gained at the expense of the 99%.

However, they see a danger:
If the grievances are more legitimate and broader than previous rages against the machine, then the dangers are also greater. Populist anger, especially if it has no coherent agenda, can go anywhere in times of want. The 1930s provided the most terrifying example. A more recent (and less frightening) case study is the tea party. The justified fury of America’s striving middle classes against a cumbersome state has in practice translated into a form of obstructive nihilism: nothing to do with taxes can get through Washington, including tax reform.

The Economist notes again in the article The 99 percent:
OF ALL the many banners being waved around the world by disgruntled protesters from Chile to Australia the one that reads, "We Are the 99%" is the catchiest. It is purposefully vague, but it is also underpinned by some solid economics. A report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) points out that income inequality in America has not risen dramatically over the past 20 years—when the top 1% of earners are excluded. With them, the picture is quite different.


jbg said...

The Power Paradox

But studies also show that once people assume positions of power, they’re likely to act more selfishly, impulsively, and aggressively, and they have a harder time seeing the world from other people’s points of view. This presents us with the paradox of power:
The skills most important to obtaining power and leading effectively are the very skills that deteriorate once we have power.

jbg said...

If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire. The claims that the ultra-rich 1% make for themselves – that they are possessed of unique intelligence or creativity or drive – are examples of the self-attribution fallacy.

jbg said...

jbg said...


jbg said...

money - a visualization