Today’s a big day.
Today I am rolling up my sleeves, cracking my knuckles, and drawing a line in the sand.
Today I am Occupying Vancouver.
Wherever you may be in the world today, you should join, too. This is the protest of our generation.
I should note I typically don’t like protests as a vehicle for change. This is not to say that I fundamentally disagree with the tactic — protests have their time and place, sometimes necessary to build revolutionary fever among the dispossessed or disenfranchised and occasionally effective as the final step in a wave of mass discontent. This recently proved the case across various parts of northern Africa and the Middle East in what has become known as the Arab Spring.
Here in North America, however, protests so often carry with them this aura of sanctimonious university students trying to make themselves seem enlightened and/or venting their vicarious rage into thin air. Of course, some protests are more equal than others, but even then there are tons more reasons why I typically shun protests out here in “the West”. Better reasons. Strong reasons. Debatable reasons. Reasons I won’t bother listing here. You and I can put up our dukes on those some other time.
So, yeah… Bezuidenthustra and protests don’t normally make good bedfellows. But the Occupy movement? This is different. I was taken with it from the start. At first I couldn’t put my finger on why, but over the past few weeks I’ve had time to fully digest this instinct to throw my weight behind the cause, even to the point where I considered just abandoning Vancouver and setting up shop on Wall Street.
This protest works for me because this protest works for all of us.
This protest works for me because, at its essence, it’s a movement of the masses at a time where there is no longer anywhere else to go. It is notice to the world that we can only go this far and no further.
It works for me because it is NOT partisan. It works because it is NOT overly academic — complicated or abstracted to the point where it fails to appeal to the common person. It works because it is NOT dependent on privilege for adherence or participation or impact. It works because it is NOT the movement of any one person or thing.
I find it funny that a large part of the criticism of Occupy Wall Street (and beyond) has been that there isn’t a unified message. How can a movement demand change, critics charge, if it doesn’t have a specific message in mind? That’s just it, though. This movement works precisely because it does NOT depend on a single message. It can’t be trapped in logic or reason. It can’t be shanghaied or piggybacked. It is a tidal wave, not a laser beam.
This protest rides on an ocean of human misery. It works because it is an expression of a Zeitgeist, a way for each and every one of us, the collective “we” around the world, to sit down, cross our arms for whatever myriad reasons we may have, and say, “Things are going to hell and now we’ve had enough.”
That’s not to say the Occupy movement is without message. Although there is probably no specific focus, the multiple grievances are fueled by some consistent basic principles, many of them beautifully laid out by Slavoj Zizek in a speech to the protesters on Wall Street. Such grievances and messages have been (and are being) documented across multiple media sources on a continuous basis, so I’m not going to bother rehashing them here. The facts are quite clear, though: in so many ways, we are getting fucked.
In the meantime, many cautious well-wishers are suggesting some sort of distilled rhetoric, and while I don’t generally approve of this approach (as you can probably tell), I do like the following shortlist of demands recently suggested by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone, even if most of it is aimed only at the United States:
1. Break up the monopolies. The so-called “Too Big to Fail” financial companies – now sometimes called by the more accurate term “Systemically Dangerous Institutions” – are a direct threat to national security. They are above the law and above market consequence, making them more dangerous and unaccountable than a thousand mafias combined. There are about 20 such firms in America, and they need to be dismantled; a good start would be to repeal the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act and mandate the separation of insurance companies, investment banks and commercial banks.
2. Pay for your own bailouts. A tax of 0.1 percent on all trades of stocks and bonds and a 0.01 percent tax on all trades of derivatives would generate enough revenue to pay us back for the bailouts, and still have plenty left over to fight the deficits the banks claim to be so worried about. It would also deter the endless chase for instant profits through computerized insider-trading schemes like High Frequency Trading, and force Wall Street to go back to the job it’s supposed to be doing, i.e., making sober investments in job-creating businesses and watching them grow.
3. No public money for private lobbying. A company that receives a public bailout should not be allowed to use the taxpayer’s own money to lobby against him. You can either suck on the public teat or influence the next presidential race, but you can’t do both. Butt out for once and let the people choose the next president and Congress.
4. Tax hedge-fund gamblers. For starters, we need an immediate repeal of the preposterous and indefensible carried-interest tax break, which allows hedge-fund titans like Stevie Cohen and John Paulson to pay taxes of only 15 percent on their billions in gambling income, while ordinary Americans pay twice that for teaching kids and putting out fires. I defy any politician to stand up and defend that loophole during an election year.
5. Change the way bankers get paid. We need new laws preventing Wall Street executives from getting bonuses upfront for deals that might blow up in all of our faces later. It should be: You make a deal today, you get company stock you can redeem two or three years from now. That forces everyone to be invested in his own company’s long-term health – no more Joe Cassanos pocketing multimillion-dollar bonuses for destroying the AIGs of the world.
Those demands are great. I approve of them. But such demands are not necessary. Its myriad diverse messages do not dilute the impact of this rolling wave.
Regardless of how our frustration is vocalized, I support the Occupy movement because it strikes at all forms of exploitation. It points millions of middle fingers at loopholes in an unbalanced global system and directs an overwhelming psychic scream at the fact that we humans are pawns in that system, one which logically must treat everything as an expendable resource, all labor as a reducible bottom line.
If nothing else, the Occupy movement brings disparities to light to many who would not normally be aware of them. In one of the articles I read, someone wrote, “We’re all journalists. We’re all the media.” Damn straight. This is change in the age of the Internet. This is solidarity in a world where corporate globalism has effectively neutered governments. It’s breaking beyond the boundaries of “raging liberals”, of “jobless hippies”, reaching all walks of life because, quite simply, we are all suffering. We are 99%. This is not jingoism. It is truth.
And I’ll admit that I love that slogan. It has a nice ring to it, sure, but I love it even more because of its stark statistical beauty. This is now a world where 1% of humanity controls nearly all facets of our existence. And the rest of us? We really are the 99%. To some degree, we are all affected. Either you’re in or you’re out. There can be no in-between. If you continue to put up with the way things are, you will continue to be exploited. There is no other outcome to the status quo.
You should be frustrated. No. Wrong. You should be righteously pissed off. You should be fucking fuming. You should be ready to draw a line in the sand. You should be saying, “To here and no further!”
Some say simply taking up space doesn’t solve anything. Some will tell you that you won’t get anywhere, that the fat cats you’re raging against aren’t affected by you and don’t really care and why don’t you try something that might work better, instead?
Oh yeah? Like what? What else will work? Nothing. Many of these same fat cats saw their houses of cards come crashing down in the fiery apocalypse that was the financial crisis of 2008, and yet, like hardy cockroaches, they managed to crawl out of that nuclear winter even fatter than before.
So to those who question our approach I say, WHAT ELSE CAN BE DONE? Where else can we turn? What other options do we have?
We have run out of options. I’m joining this protest knowing it’s just a start. There’s a long road ahead. This is the fever building. This is the tsunami on the open seas.
I’m joining this protest because it speaks to us all.
I’m joining this protest because there are no other options left.
I’m joining this protest because what the fuck else can I do?
I’m joining this protest because fuck you, exploiters. FUCK YOU.
Read more of my stuff at JohannesBez.com.