October 6, 2011
Occupy Wall Street
Writing from Atlanta, New York as a city seems more like a familiar scene from a movie or a television show than reality. New York as the home of a now three-week long protest against the policies of and concentration of wealth on Wall Street is really something that I was incapable of imagining. Until I watched several YouTube videos of peaceful protests, interviews with students, police brutality, and the footage of the Brooklyn Bridge march last weekend that resulted in over 700 arrests. The movement, protest, rally, or riot (pick whichever noun conveys the connotation you find compelling) that is Occupy Wall Street began on September 17, 2011 and has been building momentum in terms of numbers of protesters and the 52 cities that are now host to sister protests. A piece of the Occupy Wall Street format, self-described as an “open source” protest, is the 99% Percent Project, which provides a forum for individuals to describe their economic struggles which are a part of their individual basis for support of or participation in the protest. The 99% Project argues that the 99% of Americans not on Wall Street bear the burden of financial policies. Whether or not the individual economic situations are traceable to specific financial policies, the human element of the story is compelling and frightening to think about the financial fragility of so many citizens. Occupy Wall Street has been criticized rather widely for not having a specific focus, set of demands, or proposed reforms. This criticism, however, is likely to soften with the involvement of the major labor unions yesterday (Download Union March From Foley Square on Wall Streets) in an organized march as the unions are expected to bring some focus to the debate.
I have never been able to make up my mind quickly, particularly about complex issues….so I don’t quite know what to think about Occupy Wall Street. Free-form responses and questions are listed below….please feel free to post your comments. I will likely revisit this issue later this month and would love for my post to be informed, in part, by reader comments.
- Interrelated issues. A common story thread from the 99% Project is that people are saddled with (a) student loans, and/or (b) medical debt. Even though it is being done through the lens of banking and financial policy reform, a backdrop to this story is one on access to affordable healthcare and how a medical emergency can contribute to a financial one. Scroll through the 99% Project pictures and you will also see education debt amounts repeatedly listed at over $100,000. That debt burden isn’t dissimilar to the ones carried by many of our law students. And down we go through the rabbit hole of examining the cost of education and whether our students are expanding or limiting their opportunities by continuing their education, especially with the associated pricetag.
- Change follows consensus. While the criticism that the protest is unfocused is probably a factually true assertion, I wonder if at the beginning of all movements of social change there were clearly defined goals…or at least concrete, measurable changes requested that could be conceptualized in legislation? My instincts tell me no. The Civil Rights movement began with a request for equality and personal dignity and access to basic structures of society…. The resulting legislation was specific and conceived of only after a long-fought process of building public support and engaging in lots of dialogue about how to achieve those goals. The fact that Occupy Wall Street has a stated goal of reforming financial policy may, in fact, be enough to get media attention, build public support and be a part of the political dialogue heading into the 2012 election. Or perhaps it will just be further occasion for the movement to be passed off as “class warfare” ( for a list of news results characterising the movement as such, click here: Download Class warfare)
- Intersections. A discussion of financial policy reform cannot ignore the individual element of choice inherent in each possible transaction. Each individual has some ability to control or at least shape their financial future; however, perhaps the default rules set in place encourage irresponsible choices with unforeseen consequences and drawing from yesterday’s post—perhaps the principles of Nudge can be applied to these questions?
October 6, 2011 | Permalink
Let's be less subtle here.
Wall Street looted the US and the world economies, chasing bigger bonuses like crack addicts. All sense of proportion and risk management went out of the window.
So we bail them out to prevent a depression, and they don't yet "get it."
They do "own" a large slice of the political class, so any real reform is unlikely.
No, 99% of us are not buried in debt and we did not all make bad choices. We are less and less able to choose our own futures due to debilitated labor, housing and investment markets.
401 (k) statements arrive this week, once again most are damaged by the trader culture. The anger will grow.
Posted by: save_the_rustbelt | Oct 8, 2011 6:21:37 AM