Eliott Spitzer: Occupy Wall Street has already won:
Occupy Wall Street has already won, perhaps not the victory most of its participants want, but a momentous victory nonetheless. It has already altered our political debate, changed the agenda, shifted the discussion in newspapers, on cable TV, and even around the water cooler. And that is wonderful.
Suddenly, the issues of equity, fairness, justice, income distribution, and accountability for the economic cataclysm–issues all but ignored for a generation—are front and center. We have moved beyond the one-dimensional conversation about how much and where to cut the deficit. Questions more central to the social fabric of our nation have returned to the heart of the political debate. By forcing this new discussion, OWS has made most of the other participants in our politics—who either didn’t want to have this conversation or weren’t able to make it happen—look pretty small.
Surely, you might say, other factors have contributed: A convergence of horrifying economic data has crystallized the public’s underlying anxiety. Data show that median family income declined by 6.7 percent over the past two years, the unemployment rate is stuck at 9.1 percent in the October report (16.5 percent if you look at the more meaningful U6 number), and 46.2 million Americans are living in poverty—the most in more than 50 years. Certainly, those data help make Occupy Wall Street’s case.
But until these protests, no political figure or movement had made Americans pay attention to these facts in a meaningful way. Indeed, over the long hot summer, as poverty rose and unemployment stagnated, the entire discussion was about cutting our deficit.
And then OWS showed up. They brought something that had been in short supply: passion—the necessary ingredient that powers citizen activism. The tempered, carefully modulated, and finely nuanced statements of Beltway politicians and policy wonks do not alter the debate
Douglass Rushkoff on why the pundits don't get it:
Are they ready to articulate exactly what that problem is and how to address it? No, not yet. But neither are Congress or the president who, in thrall to corporate America and Wall Street, respectively, have consistently failed to engage in anything resembling a conversation as cogent as the many I witnessed as I strolled by Occupy Wall Street's many teach-ins this morning. There were young people teaching one another about, among other things, how the economy works, about the disconnection of investment banking from the economy of goods and services, the history of centralized interest-bearing currency, the creation and growth of the derivatives industry, and about the Obama administration deciding to settle with, rather than investigate and prosecute the investment banking industry for housing fraud.
Anyone who says he has no idea what these folks are protesting is not being truthful. Whether we agree with them or not, we all know what they are upset about, and we all know that there are investment bankers working on Wall Street getting richer while things for most of the rest of us are getting tougher. What upsets banking's defenders and politicians alike is the refusal of this movement to state its terms or set its goals in the traditional language of campaigns.
That's because, unlike a political campaign designed to get some person in office and then close up shop (as in the election of Obama), this is not a movement with a traditional narrative arc. As the product of the decentralized networked-era culture, it is less about victory than sustainability. It is not about one-pointedness, but inclusion and groping toward consensus. It is not like a book; it is like the Internet.
Occupy Wall Street is meant more as a way of life that spreads through contagion, creates as many questions as it answers, aims to force a reconsideration of the way the nation does business and offers hope to those of us who previously felt alone in our belief that the current economic system is broken.
But unlike a traditional protest, which identifies the enemy and fights for a particular solution, Occupy Wall Street just sits there talking with itself, debating its own worth, recognizing its internal inconsistencies and then continuing on as if this were some sort of new normal. It models a new collectivism, picking up on the sustainable protest village of the movement's Egyptian counterparts, with food, first aid, and a library.
Yes, as so many journalists seem obligated to point out, kids are criticizing corporate America while tweeting through their iPhones. The simplistic critique is that if someone is upset about corporate excess, he is supposed to abandon all connection with any corporate product. Of course, the more nuanced approach to such tradeoffs would be to seek balance rather than ultimatums. Yes, there are things big corporations might do very well, like making iPhones. There are other things big corporations may not do so well, like structure mortgage derivatives. Might we be able to use corporations for what works, and get them out of doing what doesn't?
Charles Eisenstein on what the Occupy Wall Street protesters really want:
Looking out upon the withered American Dream, many of us feel a deep sense of betrayal. Unemployment, financial insecurity, and lifelong enslavement to debt are just the tip of the iceberg. We don't want to merely fix the growth machine and bring profit and product to every corner of the earth. We want to fundamentally change the course of civilization. For the American Dream betrayed even those who achieved it, lonely in their overtime careers and their McMansions, narcotized to the ongoing ruination of nature and culture but aching because of it, endlessly consuming and accumulating to quell the insistent voice, "I wasn't put here on earth to sell product." "I wasn't put here on earth to increase market share." "I wasn't put here on earth to make numbers grow."
We protest not only at our exclusion from the American Dream; we protest at its bleakness. If it cannot include everyone on earth, every ecosystem and bioregion, every people and culture in its richness; if the wealth of one must be the debt of another; if it entails sweatshops and underclasses and fracking and all the rest of the ugliness our system has created, then we want none of it.
No one deserves to live in a world built upon the degradation of human beings, forests, waters, and the rest of our living planet. Speaking to our brethren on Wall Street, no one deserves to spend their lives playing with numbers while the world burns. Ultimately, we are protesting not only on behalf of the 99% left behind, but on behalf of the 1% as well. We have no enemies. We want everyone to wake up to the beauty of what we can create.
Occupy Wall Street has been criticized for its lack of clear demands, but how do we issue demands, when what we really want is nothing less than the more beautiful world our hearts tell us is possible? No demand is big enough. We could make lists of demands for new public policies: tax the wealthy, raise the minimum wage, protect the environment, end the wars, regulate the banks. While we know these are positive steps, they aren't quite what motivated people to occupy Wall Street. What needs attention is something deeper: the power structures, ideologies, and institutions that prevented these steps from being taken years ago; indeed, that made these steps even necessary. Our leaders are beholden to impersonal forces, such as that of money, that compel them to do what no sane human being would choose. Disconnected from the actual effects of their policies, they live in a world of insincerity and pretense. It is time to bring a countervailing force to bear, and not just a force but a call. Our message is, "Stop pretending. You know what to do. Start doing it." Occupy Wall Street is about exposing the truth. We can trust its power. When a policeman pepper sprays helpless women, we don't beat him up and scare him into not doing it again; we show the world. Much worse than pepper spray is being perpetrated on our planet in service of money. Let us allow nothing happening on earth to be hidden.
Turning Occupation Into Lasting Change:
Instead of diluting themselves to meet the needs of already-institutionalized groups who aren’t going anywhere; the Occupy folks must move in the opposite direction – deepening and strengthening their effort by demanding structural change in how the current system operates. That means moving away from the institutional advocacy promoted by mainstream progressive organizations (which has proven to be utterly ineffective against the type of consolidated wealth that makes decisions about every aspect of our lives today) and towards a new form of advocacy and activism. Rather than negotiating the terms of our de-occupation, we must rewrite the very rules under which our system operates.
Mainstream progressive groups have failed by constraining their activities within legal and regulatory systems purposefully structured to subordinate communities to corporate power. Real movements don’t operate that way. Abolitionists never sought to regulate the slave trade – they sought freedom and rights for slaves. Suffragists didn’t seek concessions but demanded the right for all women to vote. The Occupy movement must begin to use lawmaking activities in cities and towns to build a new legal structure of rights that empowers community majorities over corporate minorities, rather than the other way around.
It’s taken a centuries’ worth of manufactured and concocted legal doctrines, so that corporations and their decision makers wield not only our legislatures against us, but also the courts – to protect their property, wealth, and decision-making from popular control. Our country’s wealth inequality did not arise overnight but slowly as the corporate minority eviscerated almost every memory of any democratic system.
They’ve built a system not only which allows those with the most wealth to have the most decision-making power; but one in which even our constitutional rights have now been bestowed onto corporate “persons”; thus insulating them from governing authority.
Decline of the Empire: On the Meaning of Occupy Wall Street
These Protests Will Accomplish Nothing Tangible, But That Doesn't Matter
I am not going to belabor the point that nothing tangible will be accomplished. Eventually these protests will wither away, and our elite-ruled society will not have changed one iota. This is simply obvious, so there's no need to defend this view. Here at DOTE I refer to this kind of thing as Reality. Don't get confused about what is possible and what is not.
Then why do I say, agreeing with Salon's Glenn Greenwald, that personally, I think there's substantial value in these protests? Well, it's a lot like the difference between breathing and not breathing. The Wall Street protesters are alive, whereas most Americans are not. Most Americans I've known or met dwell among the Walking Dead. They sleepwalk through their miserable daily routine, clinging to this illusion or that, watching Fox News or The Daily Show, vaguely hoping tomorrow will be a better day. Shoulda, woulda, coulda. Every two years, about half of them vote for Tweedle Dee or Tweedle Dum. I don't call that living. I call that incarceration. In Thoreau's famous phrase, these people endure lives of quiet desperation.
And what about the "successful" ones who presumably don't have miserable daily routines? The ones who benefit from the status quo? Those in the elite, or those who got prosperous serving them? Watch the money pile grow in the morning, hit the links at two, a dry martini with filet mignon in the clubhouse, and then off for some blow and Dom Perignon on Buffy's boat. Well, these assholes are in jail too, only they don't know it. They, too, are asleep. Deeply asleep.
In fact, the more "successful" a person is in this corrupt, unjust society, the more hopeless they are in my eyes. I do not say this out of some sort of pathetic envy for their social success or riches. I say this from a position of absolute contempt. So, you're a Big Winner in Dante's Inferno (above, left), you're the hottest guy in Hell! Congratulations! How many people did you step on to get to that exalted position?
If I'm going to talk with somebody, I'll choose an occupy Wall Street protester every time. Screw these so-called "successful" people, their casual immorality, their tedious conventional thinking, their self-serving or corn-pone opinions. They don't know anything important, and never will. They do not represent an ideal others should shoot for. Wisdom is born out of suffering. Success gets you nowhere. There is no other path to wisdom.
Protesting an absurdly corrupt, unjust society is not the only way of taking life seriously, of acheiving a critical passion for living that goes far beyond merely breathing or achieving conventional success. But it's one way, and a good way too if it's done consciously. I would certainly hope that those occupying Wall Street are not delusional, that they already know (or will soon learn) that such protests are futile as far as getting anything accomplished is concerned. The Empire is in Decline. The relentless March of History is not on their side (or ours).
However, practical results are not the only things that matter in life. Abandoning the stifling status quo makes psychological breakthroughs possible, and might (ultimately) give birth to a sense of humor (albeit dark humor) about the Human Predicament. This engenders some healthy contemplation of the meaning of life itself. Getting outside the box is liberating. I'm talking about aiming toward The Good Life, where you make your own choices and don't take shit from anyone, at least not if you can help it.