Saturday, 26 November 2011


Occupy Wall Street.  I've been avoiding writing about this, even though it ties into my recent New York school exchange, and my degree.  The reason is that I am not completely sure what to think.

I've been trying to sort out my feelings about this movement for a while now.  It's sort of like nailing Jell-o to a tree.  Why?  Possibly because I don't really know enough about the movement, but it's not like I haven't been following it.  Maybe because it's hard to put a finger on exactly why people are protesting.  Though I'm not even convinced that the protesters are confused.  I have read one article that talks very lucidly about OWS demands.  Maybe it's true, or maybe it is as disorganized as the impressions I've gotten from the mainstream media, I don't know.

What I do know is that there are some legitimate gripes.  I'm not going to try to sort out what the group stands for because I'd just butcher that.  Instead I will offer my own private take on a few issues that I think are key.  I formed this opinion from my time in New York over the summer, visiting Wall Street, talking with professors, especially Dr. Irene Finel-Honigman, reading books, watching Inside Job, and so on.

A few Key Issues
First let's take a 2-second look at the high level.  There is a serious problem with the governance of the US, and it's linked to the economy.  This needs to be corrected, but it can't self-correct.  Big firms and traders take big risks with other people's money due to intense pressure to make more money in the short term.  This can be corrected with appropriate regulations, but politicians have to put these regulations in place.  Politicians are funded by big corporations who have pressure to make tons of money in the short term.

Broad brushstrokes, generalizations, but hopefully you get the idea.

On a lower level, people have lost houses, jobs, and retirement savings.  The middle class is disappearing, and this generally means less political stability.  Education loans are treated as investment vehicles instead of as a way to help finance the future, so tuitions and student debt are through the roof.  This puts a lot of pressure on people.  These reasons are the most likely reason a protester will show up, I assume, but these reasons are more symptoms of the deeper governance issue.

Protesting seems to be one of the only ways to apply some pressure to incite reasonable change.

The trouble
One of my friends once said that people don't care so much about truth.  They care more about whether they want to be associated with a group of people.  I've seen lots in the media that portrays the Occupy crowd as hypocritical, communist, disorganized, or crazy.  The movement is wide open to criticism because it attracts anyone with a gripe and has no official spokesperson.  However, I know I for one wouldn't want to associated with this negative branding, unless there were a compelling mission and a clear set of goals that I could believe in that were also associated with the group.

I know this was a grassroots movement that was meant to add the voice of the people to what's going on in the larger political and economic landscape.  Thing is it would likely have more effect if it had a clearly communicated endgame.  They could even get away with not having a particular spokesman for the group, or no clear leader per se, if they drafted a universal list of goals or demands.  That would at very least help people to know whether they should be supporting the movement or not.

Finally, I understand that even without having clear goals the people have legitimate gripes for the US-based occupy movement due to the political system, the economic system, etc.  What I really don't understand are the Canadian Occupy rallies.  It's not the same environment.  Are they supposed to be related?  The reasons for Occupy Montreal, for example, are even less clear to me than OWS.

Well time to get back to my school work so I can become the corporate tool that everyone's protesting.


Anonymous said...

Wow, this is what a few MBA courses does?

Occupy is a sign of the delegitimation of the system. Look at political participation. Civic participation. Look at political party membership, or even voter turnout. North Americans do not believe for the large part that the Canadian and American governments are legitimate.

Now, it may be for different reasons. Canada doesn't have Goldman Sachs pillaging the countryside; it doesn't have the infrastructure to support such a company. But it has a banking cartel that creates problems far different and just as insidious.

As long as the economy was decent, people could enjoy having stuff. But once it struggles, the legitimacy piece is an issue -- look at China for an example. Occupy is ugly, unsure, wobbly, and unorganized. But it is the highest-profile attempt to build an alternative to the current regimes of Canada and the United States.

Nathan Williams said...

Seeing that something has to be done is different than knowing exactly what needs to be done.

The problem was that there was no transfer from hype to action. There was no alternative that was proposed, or at least not one that made it as far as the media that reached me. It started as an organic mass and has pretty much ended as a frustrated mess.

And I remain unconvinced that Canada has anywhere near the same problems of corporate short-sighted profiteering controlling politics and creating an unstable economy. We seem to be doing OK as far as I can tell, but maybe I'm missing something.

Nathan Williams said...

Also, thank you for taking the time to comment, Anonymous.

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