Although it was originally proposed by the nonprofit Canadian magazine Adbusters, Occupy Wall Street (OWS) is essentially leaderless. Other groups have joined the protest, including the NYC General Assembly, U.S. Day of Rage, and various labor unions (including The National Nurses United). The protests have been described as the first antiauthoritarian populist movement in the United States. Some are saying it represents the rise of direct democracy, where people collectively make decisions for themselves without having elected leaders—something that hasn’t been seen since ancient times.
On October 12, the Washington Post asked Kalle Lasn, founder and editor of Adbusters, to respond to media criticism of the movement as both leaderless and lacking focus. He replied, “The messy, leaderless, demand-less movement has launched a national conversation of the likes that we haven’t had in 20 years… This revolution is run by the Internet generation, with egalitarian ways of looking at things, and an inclusive process of getting everyone involved. That’s the magic of it… the protestors are not hopping into bed with any party, even the Democratic Party. As the winter approaches, I think there will be different phases and ideas, possibly fragmentation into different agendas. I think crystal-clear demands will emanate.”
Despite lack of demands or apparent focus, the basic message is of OWS is clear: Wall Street is oozing corruption and criminality and has unrestrained political power in the form of crony capitalism and ownership of political institutions. The Supreme Court decision to allow – actually support – unrestricted financial “giving” to political candidates is one of the more disturbing signs that political control by the wealthy and corporations is now an unrestrained “given.” As a small minority with enormous wealth at its disposal increases its control of government (and even of the media), it destroys the well-being and financial security of everyone else. Thus, the slogan of OWS: We are the 99%.
On October 25, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) stated that the top 1% of earners saw their average incomes rise sharply in recent decades, a finding that a leading Democrat said underscores concerns over income inequality in the United States. In the CBO report, Trends in the Distribution of Household Income Between 1979 and 2007, average household income (adjusted for inflation and excluding transfer payments and taxes) increased 62% during that period. But the increase for the top 1% of earners was 275% over the same period. According to the CBO, “As a result of that uneven income growth, the distribution of after-tax household income in the United States was substantially more unequal in 2007 than in 1979: The share of income accruing to higher-income households increased, whereas the share accruing to other households declined. In fact, between 2005 and 2007, the after-tax income received by the 20% of the population with the highest income exceeded the after-tax income of the remaining 80%.”
Media theorist Douglas Rushkoff has criticized the mainstream media for dismissing the protesters. “Anyone who says he has no idea what these folks are protesting is not being truthful,” Rushkoff said. “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.”
In fact, media coverage of OWS has been spotty and generally negative, with radio and TV talk show hosts spewing vitriole. On October 5, 2011, conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh told his audience: “When I was 10 years old I was more self-sufficient than this parade of human debris calling itself Occupy Wall Street.” Glenn Beck said on his Internet television network GBTV, “Capitalists, if you think that you can play footsies with these people, you are wrong. They will come for you and drag you into the streets and kill you. They will do it. They’re not messing around.”
An October 13 survey by Time Magazine found that 54% impression of the OWS protests, while 23% had a negative impression. An NBC/Wall Street Journal survey found that 37% of respondents “tend to support” the movement while 18% “tend to oppose” it. An October United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection poll found that 59% of Americans agree with the movement while 31% disagree.
Americans are seeing the America we knew—the America of the Great Middle Class—disappearing while an America run by plutocrats is rising. And it’s not just Americans who are protesting: On October 15, tens of thousands of demonstrators staged rallies in 900 cities around the world, including Auckland, Sydney, Hong Kong, Taipei, Tokyo, São Paulo, Paris, Madrid, Berlin, Hamburg, Leipzig, and many others. In Frankfurt, 5,000 people protested at the European Central Bank. Protests also have been held in Zurich, Switzerland’s financial hub. A protest in Rome drew thousands from Italy and throughout Europe.
Democracy, the voice of the people, is loud and clear. Its message is clear: Economic injustice will not be tolerated. The method and the leadership will emerge.
Bershad J. Glenn Beck: Protestors ‘Will Come For You, Drag You Into The Streets, And Kill You”.
Mediaite. October 10, 2011. www.mediaite.com/online/glenn-glenn-beck-occupy-wall-street-will-come-for-you-drag-you-into-the-streets-and-kill-you/. Accessed October 27, 2011.
Congressional Budget Office. Trends in the distribution of household income between 1979 and 2007. October 2011. www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/124xx/doc12485/10-25-HouseholdIncome.pdf. Accessed October 27, 2011.
Cooper M. Poll: Most Americans Support Occupy Wall Street. Atlantic. October 19, 2011. www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/10/poll-most-americans-support-occupy-wall-street/246963/. Accessed October 27, 2011.
Easley J. Rush Limbaugh Flips Out, “The Next President Could Come From (Occupy Wall St)”.
Politicsusa.com. October 5, 2011. www.politicususa.com/en/rush-limbaugh-president-occupy-wall-st. Accessed October 27, 2011.
Flock E. Occupy Wall Street: An interview with Kalle Lasn, the man behind it all. Washington Post. October 12, 2011. www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/blogpost/post/occupy-wall-street-an-interview-with-kalle-lasn-the-man-behind-it-all/2011/10/12/gIQAC81xfL_blog.html. Accessed October 27, 2011.
Montopoli B. Occupy Wall Street: More popular than you think. CBS News Political Hotsheet. October 13, 2011. www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20120052-503544.html. Accessed October 27, 2011.
Ruskoff D. Think Occupy Wall St. is a phase? You don’t get it. CNN. October 5, 2011. www.cnn.com/2011/10/05/opinion/rushkoff-occupy-wall-street/index.html. Accessed October 27, 2011.