Tuesday, November 29, 2011

OWS in Tribune

Ian Williams

Anger can be power – now build on it
by Ian Williams
Monday, November 28th, 2011
Sometimes, you just have to be there. I was in Wall Street when the protestors were allowed into the park – minus sleeping bags and tents. As they waited while billionaire Mayor Mike Bloomberg went jurisdiction shopping to find a tame judge to overthrow the earlier verdict that had ordered him to stop the eviction, it was fascinating to see the interaction between the occupiers and the public servants he had ordered to evict them. The normal cops, despite their ­brand-new riot helmets, were friendly, ­laughing, bantering with the ­demonstrators, who had sedulously “reached out to them”, real as public workers threatened by budget cuts.
In the background were the thugs, the senior officers. Old school cops with bullhorns on this occasion, but pepper sprays on others, whose whole demeanour reflected their visceral ­distaste for the occupiers and all they stood for. And behind them, of course, stood Bloomberg and the political leaders of most major cities in the United States, 18 of whom had co-ordinated a nationwide crackdown. Bloomberg, who has made his billions from Wall Street, was under particularly heavy social and political pressure to remove the occupation that had started such a ­
global avalanche of protest.
However, Bloomberg and his cops would have served the bankers better by ignoring their whims. Instead, they inadvertently did the Occupy Wall Street movement a big favour, almost on a par with when a senior officer gratuitously pepper-sprayed three women in the early days. Even though the occupiers had had training from Norwegian ski-troop ­veterans and Alpinists about cold ­weather, New York’s cold would really have demanded “Winter Soldiers”, as Tom Payne would have recognised. The forced evacuation made them ­honourable victims, who can build on their own considerable success, which exceeded their wildest original ­expectations. The nationwide over-reaction of the police renewed support and interest.
Their success is as a catalyst, igniting the various elements which had accumulated. In some ways, the most puzzling question has been the deafening sound of silence around the financial crisis. The occupation has brought the issue of inequality out from the vaults where the politicians, pundits and their plutocratic payrollers had hidden it.
For example, quite possibly inspired by OWS, New York Judge Jed S Rakoff has been examining a Securities and Exchange Commission settlement with Citibank. Like most such boilerplate agreements, the defrauding companies agree to pay a cash settlement, without admitting to any wrongdoing. Rakoff has been having fun. Instead of rubber-stamping the settlement, he read it. Like all the other previous settlements, it included a promise not to do it again. Yet the SEC attorney had to admit that they had never ever brought any company before a judge for contempt of court when, over and over again, they broke the law.
Set to a backdrop of a wacko Supreme Court decision that corporations are people when it comes to “free speech” or bribing politicians with ­campaign donations, the contrast with their lack of personhood when it comes to the criminal law has been rankling.
So where does it go from here? One can only hope that now they are freed from the chores of housekeeping and eccentric rituals of bonding hitherto involved in maintaining the occupation, the OWS cadre does not go further into manifesto writing. Some of the draft ­versions that have emerged read like ­pastiches of John Cleese’s band of revolutionaries in Monty Python’s Life of Brian – politically correct psychobabble devoid of effective content.
In many ways, that is better than if they knuckled down to serious manifesto-writing, which would have ­alienated not just the 57 varieties on the left, but all the others who are united in detestation for what Wall Street has done, but disagree about almost ­anything else.
Despite the understandable disdain for the American political machine, ­anyone who is touch with reality will realise that motivating people to vote and forcing elected politicians to take notice is the only way out of the impasse. If the Tea Party, representing a cultist minority, can wield so much influence over the Republicans, then the ­sentiments represented by OWS can surely find expression in the Democratic Party whose time-serving fifth columnists have so often represented corporate interests.  OWS can maintain the anger. It is up to others to focus it electorally and ensure that it is not dissipated in apocalyptic angry visions, or new age fatuities.
One aspect of that is re-electing Barack Obama. At the time of his election, I wrote that he was not the second coming: but he wasn’t the Anti-Christ. The Republican line-up, beneath the clownish presentations, makes Lucifer’s lot look angelic.

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