As the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement enters its fourth week, on Saturday the New York and Washington base camp plazas were so overfilled they resembled Tahrir Square, Cairo. People of all ages, races, denominations and social strata came together, peacefully protesting and demanding change. Even a corporate lawyer held up a placard saying “Raise My Taxes.”
Right Wing talking heads in the corporate controlled, mainstream media (MSM) kept calling them “crazy, dangerous, anarchist hippies who don’t know what they want and cannot articulate what victory looks like.” The crowds just kept growing in size, anger and diversity. They rallied underneath the slogan, “I am the 99%.” If you were amongst the 1%, you began to feel a shift from complacency to a wave of global outrage aimed squarely at you.
While government apologists tried to call it ‘class warfare,’ those there found a simple, almost Tory/GOP/Tea Party-style optic message: I am the 99%! And this movement only shows signs of growing and expanding through the same social media channels Egyptian protestors used in February to other nations (are listening UK and Welsh Governments?).
Having covered Tahrir Square in the book Egypt Unshackled, Egypt’s uprising roots were equal parts loathing of Hosni Mubarak’s brutal regime and fundamental economic hopelessness. Egypt’s demographic time bomb had millions of young people unable to find jobs or feed their family while families of the privileged government, business and military ruling class controlled the economy. The OWS template already exists and was executed there to perfection through sheer force of will. The protestors would not leave the Square and were willing to die for their freedom.
Now it’s time for another force of will. The US Congress ignored the 99% for four decades and spent its time raising millions to fund telly adverts so they can keep their jobs. The money came from lobbyists, corporations and banks that then demanded (and collected) their ‘pound of flesh’ and faithfully got it while the 99% suffered in quiet oblivion. The Marie Antoinette ‘let them eat cake’ moment came in the form of shiny home loans they could not fathom, HD tellies, fancy iPhones and video games… “The 99% won’t worry themselves with our thievery. We’ll be gone before they know what hit them.” one can imagine a banker gleefully snickering over his sherry.
Then came the 2008 financial meltdown and banks too big to fail. While everyone knows markets fluctuate, no one understood how oversight vanished. Where were the US and EU governments that allowed Wall Street and the big banks to become a casino betting the 99%’s meagre earnings on spectacularly bad derivative products that then exploded.
And when the treasury bailed them out, how could the money go directly into the pockets of those who created the mess in the first place as bonuses? And… how is it possible, three years later, that not one person responsible has been either arrested or convicted, indeed still have their jobs (and bonuses), while the 99% continue to suffer?
Those do not seem an unreasonable series of questions. So why do the MSM blame those asking the questions vs. the politicians of business owners who created the mess?
So one can see how a movement coalesced on its own. OWS is more organised now and feeling the support. As of Saturday night, protests were underway in 1,012 US cities and towns. And while PJ O’Rourke and Nicole Wallace snidely played Republican apologist on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, calling OWS ‘dirty hippies’ and wondering “where they went to the bathroom?”, it was former Congressman Alan Grayson who earned a studio audience (and global) standing ovation by calmly eviscerating them and explaining patiently and coherently what this movement wants. Now there is critical mass and the MSM is starting to pay serious attention.
Before OWS and the events of Tahrir Square in Cairo, it reminded me of the 15 February 2003 protest where 21-million people in 665-cities around the globe took to the streets to protest the coming Iraq invasion over so-called weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Bush Press Secretary Ari Fleischer called 21-million people a “focus group” saying “the White House does not respond to focus groups.”
In the weeks leading up to that march there were serious and sober discussions on Dutch media about letting UN inspectors finish their work. It became clear the US was determined to invade Iraq and ordered the UN inspectors out of Iraq. The UN’s Hans Blix issued a report saying there were no WMD’s and worried for his team’s safety.
The next day 120,000 people descended on Dam Square in central Amsterdam. We’d spent a month getting ready for this protest. It became the largest since the government decision to base Trident nuclear missiles in The Netherlands was overturned by the will of the people two decades earlier. I was the press spokesman of a US group of ex-pats Americans Against War in Iraq (AAWI). We marched side-by-side with a group representing 50K Iraqi exiled in Holland.
Truth be told, I’d never been in a protest before. What was stunning about this march was the number of people who were also ‘1st time protestors.’ When I interviewed Omar Hamilton, a documentary film-maker in Cairo for Egypt Unshackled, he said, “Tahrir had a festival feel to it. It was the only place one felt safe. Even my 80+ Auntie joined everyone in the Square.”
The Dam Square had a similar feel. Marching with Dutch and American Grandma’s, students, businessmen and workers, we were there for one reason… we worried what kind of a world we were creating for our children? We were serious, sober protestors asking for a similarly serious, sober dialogue before the outbreak of a war none of us understood had anything to do with Al Qaeda or the 9/11 attacks.
The 99% remain under attack. It is our children who die in wars called by corporate and governmental leaders not caring about long-term outcomes, just being proven right! They think they can ignore OWS. They do so at their peril. This is a movement, a wave involving young and old about the future.
While of seeming short term benefit to the Democratic Party, it could quickly become their worst nightmare if they think the 99% will just be placated and accept business as usual.
Like Einstein said, ‘they’re doing something about this evil.’ We all would be wise to listen.