It’s Now, Occupy World Wide | by Farooque Chowdhury

by Oct 15, 2011All Articles

Across oceans and covering continents people around the world are struggling. There are protest marches, demonstrations, occupations. It’s now global, a globalization of struggle for democracy, for a decent life. It is One Earth One Humanity One Loved, as a placard in the Occupy Wall Street Movement announces.

It stands opposed to capital’s globalization that is going for centuries but that has failed to make this world livable. All around the globe, capitalism, its ideology and political systems in all variations are being questioned, criticized, condemned, and rejected. Even, political leaders cannot now ignore the broad message people are trying to articulate in their own ways. The leaders have to admit, even as tact to win over electorate, the rightful claims made by people.
Even, main stream media cannot now ignore the people’s struggles, sometimes sporadic, isolated, unorganized and immature, sometimes lacking clear vision, and sometimes lacking mooring in proper perspective and politics. But all are great, great in terms of goals, dreams and aspirations, great in terms of common journey. They, collectively, own a power, a power that is exerting pressure on status quo. Status quo, its politics and politicians, its arrangements and facades, its tricks and theatrical moves, its demagogues and democracy, is feeling existence of the movement, and is getting exposed. Its recent pronouncements and practices revel these.

Struggles appearing small and insignificant carry promises of lofty goal: a peaceful, mutually tolerant, decent life free from greed. The struggles, small and smaller, big and bigger, are, as a whole, creating force for gaining momentum for bringing in change in this planet, for a livable, beautiful planet.

Now, the facts:

Barack Obama, told reporters: “I think people are frustrated and […] the protesters are giving voice to a more broad-based frustration about how our financial system works.”

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi has spoken out in support of the Occupy Wall Street movement. She said on ABC’s “This Week”: “I support the message to the establishment, whether it’s Wall Street or the political establishment and the rest, that change has to happen”, Pelosi said. “We cannot continue in a way that is not relevant to their lives.” She added that the bank bailout has fuelled animosity towards Wall Street as the benefits have not been felt by ordinary Americans. “The thought was that when we did that [pass the bailout], there would be capital available and Main Street would benefit from the resources that went largely to Wall Street”, said Pelosi. “That didn’t happen. People are angry.”

Eric Cantor, House Majority leader, a top Republican, referred to the OWS movement participants “growing mobs” that are trying to divide the country.

Two Republican presidential candidates accused the protesters of carrying out “class warfare”.

GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that the protests are designed to draw away attention from President Obama and labeled them “anti-American”. “The proof is quite simply the bankers and the people on Wall Street didn’t write these failed policies of the Obama administration,” he said. “They didn’t spend a trillion dollars that didn’t work. The administration and the Democrats spent a trillion dollars.”

Newt Gingrich, another Presidential candidate, told CBS that he agreed that the protests are “a natural product of Obama’s class warfare.” “We have had a strain of hostility to free enterprise. And frankly a strain of hostility to classic America starting in our academic institutions and spreading across this country.”

Michael Bloomberg, New York mayor, said the protesters are “trying to destroy jobs of working people in this city.” In his weekly radio address, Bloomberg said: “They’re trying to take away the tax base we have, because none of this is good for tourism.” “If the jobs they’re trying to get rid of in the city – the people that work in finance, which is a big part of our economy – go away, we’re not going to have any money to pay our municipal employees or clean the parks or anything else”, he said.

Richard Fisher, Dallas Fed president said: “I am somewhat sympathetic – that will shock you. We have too many people out of work for too long. We have a very frustrated people, and I can understand their frustration.”

Michael Neal, head of GE Capital, the finance arm of General Electric Co, said that he was sympathetic to the OWS movement. “If I were unemployed now, I’d be really angry too. There are a lot of unhappy people right now and there’s not a lot going on that gives you much reason to be inspired”, said Neal.

The pronouncements/observations tell respective economic-political position. But, the fact is: at least for now, and till a rightist onslaught begins, it is not possible to ignore people’s aspiration and indignation. All and everyone have to reveal respective position in terms of capital and classes. One of the gains the movements have made: expose status quo, its limits, status quo cannot maintain its silence.

Depending on social reality and equation of social forces, similar movements are moving with own pace. News headlines from main stream tell: “Wall Street protests hit 70 US cities”, “Wall Street protest movement spreads to cities across US, Canada and Europe”. Similar many are there. The movement organizers claimed: In the US and around the world, there are now 1,257 Occupy Together communities.

Other than these Occupy Together communities, in struggle/occupation, in the phase of preparation, in solidarity, there are occupations going on, functionally and effectively, challenging neo-liberal policy and politics. Following are a few, very recent:

Brussels
AFP reported: Hundreds of ‘Indignants’ from France, the Netherlands and Spain set up camp in Elisabeth Park in Brussels on October 8 to protest EU-ordered austerity measures. Belgian protesters joined them. Defying a ban and rain they pitched tents. The protesters have walked, some for months, from as far as Spain’s Atlantic coast. They plan to hold an alternative parliament in the park in October 8-15. The protesters informed: police have been deployed around the park with dog handlers, mounted police and a bus for mass arrests. The authorities had banned the group from setting up camp there as the park had no running water. The local mayor suggested the protesters to move into a Flanders University empty building. The EU leaders will meet in a summit, dominated by the continent’s debt crisis, on October 17-18. (“Anti-Austerity ‘Indignants’ Occupy Brussels Park”, Oct. 9, 2011)

London
The Guardian/UK reported: More than 2,000 people staged protest on Westminster Bridge in central London on October 9 to highlight the health and social care bill. Unfurling banners reading “Save our NHS” the protesters dressed up as medics sat down and blocked the bridge. Hundreds of police looked on. UK Uncut, the anti-cuts group that organized the Block the Bridge, Block the Bill demonstration, said: “Today has brought together doctors, nurses, parents, students, unions, pensioners and children together in an unprecedented act of mass civil disobedience. We are occupying the bridge because the bill would be bad for the NHS, bad for patients and bad for society.” The protest drew support from people across the UK. Sam, a therapy radiographer from London, said: “The NHS is the greatest invention in this country’s history, providing universal healthcare for all. If it is sold to private companies this will no longer be the case.” Susan Secher, 53, a human resources manager from London said: “…the bill is being pushed through and this is our last chance to stop it and people are becoming desperate.” Janet Bennett, a pensioner who had traveled down from Liverpool said: “The NHS is so important to people in this country and we need to stand up and protect it from this creeping privatization, and this is why I am here today.” The bill is due to go before the House of Lords this week. (Matthew Taylor, “Protesters Against NHS Privatization Occupy Westminster Bridge”, Oct. 9, 2011)

Chile
From Santiago the Guardian/UK reported: In late May, came the “Chilean Winter”, a national student uprising seizing control of the political agenda and taking over of public educational institutions. Now, about 200 state elementary and high schools and a dozen universities are being occupied by students in Chile. Weekly protest marches throughout the country find 50,000-100,000 students on average. There are protest marches by thousands of students in Santiago. Recently, downtown Santiago saw protesting youth, tear gas, and arrest of more than hundred students.

One of the occupied schools is the Carmela Carvajal primary and secondary school, Chile’s one of the most successful state schools. Dozens of girl students of the school, the country’s most prestigious girl’s school, are living a revolution since May. They held a vote after taking over the school to approve the takeover. About half of the 1,800 students participated in the polls. The yays outnumbered the nays 10 to one. The five-month occupation shows no signs of dying.

They are still fighting for their goal: free university education for all. The student-occupied school is a wired reality of a generation that boasts the communication tools that feisty young rebels of history never dreamed of. When police forces come closer, the students use Facebook chat sessions to mobilize. Within minutes, they rally support groups from other public schools in the neighborhood. “Our lawyer lives over there”, said Angelica Alvarez, 14, as she pointed to a cluster of nearby homes. “If we yell ‘Mauricio’ really loud, he leaves his home and comes over.”

Sleeping on a tiled classroom floor and using classroom chairs to barricade themselves they are always on the lookout for police raids. Authorities have repeatedly attempted to retake the school, police were sent to evict the rebel students, but so far the students have held their ground. Police took back the school 10 times. But every time the students occupied it back.

Guest lecturers provide free classes on topics ranging from economics to astronomy. Extracurricular classes are there. Rock bands perform on weekends. Neighbors donate foods. So much food is donated that the Carmela Carvajal students regularly pass on those to hungry students at other occupied schools.

The students vote on all issues including daily duties, housekeeping schedules and the election of a president and spokeswoman. The school rules now include several new decrees: no sex, no boys and no booze. A few students tried to bring in alcohol, but they were caught and punished. As punishment they had to clean the bathrooms.

Politicians and many parents fret that 2011 is “a lost year” for public education. But for many of the students the past five months has been the most intensive education of their life.

The students are demanding a return to the 1960s’ free public university education, and education be recognized as a common right for all, not a “consumer good” to be sold on the open market. Current tuition fees average nearly three times the minimum annual wage, and with interest rates on student loans at 7%. Now, Chile’s many schools are for-profit institutions, run as businesses. A leading newspaper regularly featured advertisements of schools for sale that often described the institutions as highly profitable investments. This pushed students demand financial reform, a centerpiece of their uprising. Initially, the students’ demands were flatly rejected by the conservative government of president Pinera. But, now, the government is moving towards meeting students’ demands.

The students’ unified front is supported by an estimated 6 of 10 adults in Chile, far higher than the country’s political coalitions or President Pinera. (“Chilean Girls Stage ‘Occupation’ of Their Own School in Education Rights Protest”, Oct. 8, 2011)

Greece
In Greece, demonstrators are blocking government agencies and clashing with government thugs amid plumes of tear gas. Workers and employees are staging job actions. Almost everyday a sector is on strike. Demonstrations become more massive and more organized. “[C]lass oriented trade unions and anti-monopoly coalitions of the self employed take up initiatives, through meetings at the work places, at neighborhoods…” Students move on to huge demonstrations. In a correspondence with In These Times, George Pontikos of the All Workers Militant Front (PAME), described a steady escalation of militancy across a growing swath of Greek society. (“While Wall Street Quakes, Greece’s Fire Still Burns Bright”, In These Times, Oct. 7, 2011)

A few days back, a group of students occupied a TV station in Greece. A number of campuses are being occupied by students also.

MSM
Main stream media initially tried to ignore the movement. But it failed. That’s because of power of society, which MSM always tries to manipulate. MSM’s change in tone or posture signals a number of aspects. Now, section of MSM speaks, with its own tone that safeguards its interests, in favor of people’s aspirations and questions section of capital.

In an editorial the New York Times said: “As the Occupy Wall Street protests spread […] the chattering classes keep complaining that the marchers lack a clear message and specific policy prescriptions. The message — and the solutions — should be obvious to anyone who has been paying attention since the economy went into a recession that continues to sock the middle class while the rich have recovered and prospered. The problem is that no one in Washington has been listening.”

Further indicating the non-responsive political system, the editorial said: “It is not the job of the protesters to draft legislation. That’s the job of the […] leaders, and if they had been doing it […] there might not be a need for these marches and rallies.”

It said, as the leaders have not performed “the public airing of grievances is a legitimate and important end in itself.”

Citing the Occupy Wall Street protest as “more than a youth uprising” and “the first line of defense against a return to the Wall Street ways that plunged the nation into an economic crisis from which it has yet to emerge” the editorial said: “[P]rotest is the message […] the protesters […] are giving voice to a generation of lost opportunity. […]”

Mentioning collusion between financial sector, regulators and elected officials, it said: “The protests […] are exactly right”.

Citing profiteering from credit bubble, and consequently loss of jobs, incomes, savings and home equity costing millions of Americans the editorial said: “As the bad times have endured, Americans have also lost their belief in redress and recovery.”

The NYT editorial mentioned that bailouts and “elected officials’ hunger for campaign cash from Wall Street,” have increased “[t]he initial outrage”. Terming combination of these two as “toxic”, the editorial said: the “combination […] has reaffirmed the economic and political power of banks and bankers, while ordinary Americans suffer.”

“Extreme inequality”, it said, “is the hallmark of a dysfunctional economy, dominated by a financial sector that is driven as much by speculation, gouging and government backing as by productive investment.”

It mentioned “concentration of income in today’s deeply unequal society”, resurgence of inequality, corporate profits reaching to “highest level as a share of the economy since 1950, while worker pay as a share of the economy is at its lowest point since the mid-1950s”, decline of real income of working-age households.

Referring to research the editorial said: “[S]uch extreme inequality correlates to a host of ills, including lower levels of educational attainment, poorer health and less public investment. It also skews political power, because policy almost invariably reflects the views of upper-income Americans versus those of lower-income Americans.”

“No wonder”, the NYT editorial said, “that Occupy Wall Street has become a magnet for discontent.” As policy goals to address the grievances of the protesters the editorial mentioned 1. lasting foreclosure relief, 2. a financial transactions tax, 3. greater legal protection for workers’ rights, and 4. more progressive taxation. The editorial said: “The country needs a shift in the emphasis of public policy from protecting the banks to fostering full employment, including public spending for job creation and development of a strong, long-term strategy to increase domestic manufacturing.” (“Protesters Against Wall Street”, New York Times, Oct. 9, 2011)

MSM in the periphery initially followed its masters: totally ignore the movement, total disregard to the movement. But, now, “things” are changing. A section of the peripheral MSM, talks in the tone of movement participants, questions speculators, criticizes failures of capitalism. It’s not because of only advancement of the movement, but also because of power of capitalism’s failure, power of people’s mood, and need of the section to secure it consumers and credibility.

Solidarity from afar
Hugo Chávez has condemned the “horrible repression” of anti-Wall Street protesters. He expressed solidarity with OWS activists who are staging rallies and marches against corporate greed. “This movement of popular outrage is expanding to […] cities […]”, Chávez said at a political meeting shown on state TV. (“Chávez condemns Wall Street protest ‘crackdown’”, guardian.co.uk, Oct. 9, 2011)

Solidarity is there in countries. In countries, people have hope. Materializing hopes takes time, and time teaches through achievements and failures. This solidarity, this hope makes the movement worldwide.

Dhaka based free lancer Farooque Chowdhury contributes on socioeconomic issues.

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