Business, Politics

Revolution rumbles as Occupy Wall Street goes global

By Kevin Bloom 17 October 2011

New York bankers dismiss the Occupy Wall Street protests as the doings of out-of-work hippies. But on 15 October, as the campaign spread to 951 cities in 82 countries, the moneyed “1%” may be watching their flat-screen TVs in silent panic. As protests turned violent in Rome, a global manifesto endorsed by the likes of Noam Chomsky is lending the movement some long-awaited coherence. By KEVIN BLOOM. 

On Saturday 15 October, as the Occupy Wall Street protests go global in what’s being called an “International Day of Action”, the movement’s website carries its concerns via a piece of long-form journalism that was the envy of non-fiction writers everywhere when published in July 2009. The piece was written by Matt Taibbi, a 40-year-old American polemical journalist and columnist, and became instantly famous for one inspired line: “[Goldman Sachs] is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money”.

It’s this line that appears on occupywallstreet.org, beneath a screed against neoliberalism – “your future stolen” – but there is a passage in the article, which ran across a dozen lush pages in Rolling Stone, that reads as prophetic in the context of what’s been going on since mid-September. The passage appears after Taibbi attempted to introduce a rogues gallery of Goldman graduates at the centre of the collapse, and picks up where he fails:

“But then, any attempt to construct a narrative around all the former Goldmanites in influential positions quickly becomes an absurd and pointless exercise, like trying to make a list of everything. What you need to know is the big picture: If America is circling the drain, Goldman Sachs has found a way to be that drain — an extremely unfortunate loophole in the system of Western democratic capitalism, which never foresaw that in a society governed passively by free markets and free elections, organised greed always defeats disorganised democracy.”

One reason, perhaps, the administrators of the Occupy Wall Street site chose not to refer to this passage is that they’re understandably loathe to predict their own demise. With protests taking place in 951 cities across 82 countries – including South Africa, where 80 people gathered at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and 100 at Cape Town’s Company Gardens – the campaign seems to be succeeding beyond anybody’s wildest imagination. In London, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange addressed the crowd from the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral. After being detained by police for 15 minutes for refusing to take off his mask, he attacked a greedy and corrupt financial and political system that had drawn the ire of demonstrators from the Arab world to the West.

Of course, the bankers on Wall Street, where all of this started, seem to be dismissing the movement as short-term and unsophisticated. According to an article in The New York Times that cited a number of them (in the main anonymously), Occupy Wall Street is seen not as a middle-class uprising, but as a loose and unguided hissy-fit supported by a “ragtag group looking for sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll”. The Times quoted a “longtime money manager,” who said: “‘Who do you think pays the taxes? Financial services are one of the last things we do in this country and do it well. Let’s embrace it. If you want to keep having jobs outsourced, keep attacking financial services. This is just disgruntled people.” The general feeling among New York’s bankers is that the protests will fizzle out when the weather turns cold, and that Occupy Wall Street’s lack of coherence and leadership will ensure a tame termination.

The publication on Saturday of a global manifesto for regime change could, therefore, not come at a better time. Released to coincide with the worldwide protests, it is the result of four months of collaboration between activists and peoples’ assemblies in countries as diverse as Britain, Egypt, Tunisia, Germany, Spain, the US, Palestine, Israel, Brazil, Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina, India and Australia, and the final text has the endorsement of names like Vandana Shiva, Naomi Klein and Noam Chomsky.

“Undemocratic international institutions are our global Mubarak, our global Assad, our global Gaddafi,” the third paragraph of the manifesto reads. “These include: the IMF, the WTO, global markets, multinational banks, the G8/G20, the European Central Bank and the UN security council. Like Mubarak and Assad, these institutions must not be allowed to run people’s lives without their consent. We are all born equal, rich or poor, woman or man. Every African and Asian is equal to every European and American. Our global institutions must reflect this, or be overturned.”

How will this be turned to action? The writers of the manifesto acknowledge nobody now believes the goal of “globalising Tahrir Square” is achievable. While it may seem obvious to many that “jobs, health, housing, education and pensions are controlled by global banks, markets, tax-havens, corporations and financial crises,” and that “safety is determined by international wars and international trade in arms, drugs and natural resources”, what’s less obvious is how these systems will be overthrown.

Still, say the manifesto’s authors, nobody believed the French Revolution was possible either. With news breaking of the protests turning violent in Rome, it could be we are witnessing the start of something historic. DM



Read more:

  • “The Great American Bubble Machine,” in Rolling Stone;
  • “In Private, Wall St. Bankers Dismiss Protesters as Unsophisticated,” in NYT;
  • “A manifesto for regime change on behalf of all humanity,” in The Guardian;
  • “Police and demonstrators clash in Rome, teargas fired,” in Reuters;
  • Occupy Wall Street website.

Photo: REUTERS

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