On Wednesday, the Occupy Wall Street protests entered a new phase as, at about 6 p.m. New York time, 20,000 participants gathered in the Lower Manhattan area. Give or take a few thousand from that estimate, and you still have the beginnings of a movement to rival the Tea Party in its political, if uncoordinated, influence.
A glance at posts on EA and other sites gives an idea of the amorphous nature of this new social protest group,and their lack of concrete policy demands. Visit their (unofficial) website occupywallst.org and there is little to explain their aims, as in the tradition of a manifesto like the original Populist Party of 1892, other than the explanation:
Occupy Wall Street is a leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. We are using the revolutionary tactic to achieve our ends and encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize the safety of all participants.
In that tribute to the Arab Spring, American progressives are formulating . This will culminate in mass meetings around the country on 17 November promoting a "jobs not cuts" agenda; with the nomination of political candidates supporting that plan, up to Senate level if necessary, to pressure the Democratic Party in Washington to move to the Left.
If you've followed reports on the Occupy Wall Street protests over the last couple of weeks, you will have encountered the opinion that this is nothing more than a bunch of hippie “rabble” who will soon return to obscurity. Erick Erickson posted on that at yesterday's conservative bellwether blogsite redtstate.com. And to show that even the oldest of stereotypes don't die easily, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain revived the medieval notion of the “undeserving poor” by in an interview with the Wall Street Journal:
Don't blame Wall Street, don't blame the big banks, if you don't have a job and you're not rich, blame yourself! It is not a person's fault because they succeeded, it is a person's fault if they failed.
These conservative voices may be right. But they are more likely wrong, and here are a couple of quick reasons why.
The "occupy" idea is now spreading virally. More and more protests are being planned every hour, with the numbers of cities involved in the US rising on the occupytogether.org website to 374 as of last night. There is a cautionary lesson to be learnt from from visiting some of the suggested meet-ups linked on that site: the group, for instance, was meeting for the first time today at 9 a.m. outside City Hall with only 14 people pledged to attend in the nation's fifth-largest city. But that was only nine people an hour before, and it will be a test of how how much legs this occupy concept has to see what actually happens there.
And the movement is not just mushrooming in the US. An occupylsx event, targeting the London Stock Exchange --- has been announced for 15 October. Other sites are also appearing in the United Kingdom looking to organise local meetings, with occupybritain.co.uk acting as an unofficial coordinating group. Again, this may be a "false dawn" in seeing the "occupy2 movement as the equivalent in energy and enthusiasm of the Tea Party --- though this at occupywallst explains why the two are diametrically opposed in contet --- but there is a compelling reason to think this movement will only grow and grow.
Occupy Wall Street's main complaint is anger at the crisis precipitated by the banks and financial institutions, and at the bailouts of 2008. I'm not going to pretend at being an expert on the sovereign debt problems in Europe, their cause, or their possible solutions. But on Wednesday night, on BBC's Newsnight, the consensus of experts was that Europe was facing a crisis worse than 2007-8, with massive recapitalisation of banks –-- taxpayer bailouts in other words --– the only conceivable way of avoiding an "apocalypse"
Most alarmingly, the consensus opinion was that without immediate political action --- an intervention looking ever more unlikely to happen --- this meltdown of the banking system in Europe, and then worldwide, could be only 2-3 weeks away.
There is no conceivable way that the Occupy protests are going to lose momentum over that short timeframe, and their message can only become more relevant if that next round of bailouts and related financial repercussions come to pass. Dr. Shapiro can be dismissed as a doom- mongerer, but after reading many articles over the last year on the debt problems in the US and elsewhere, the main lesson I have learnt is that the urgency of the situation in Europe, and its possible effects in America, have been consistently underestimated and downplayed.
Which raises the inevitable question, "Where and how far can this movement go?" The frank answer is that no one, whatever they may claim, actually knows. Experts on movement theory will tell you what the Occupy protests need to do to sustain themselves long-term, as Rich Yeselson does, but the intriguing aspect to this latest populist uprising is that is has no central hierarchy or demands to be picked apart and ridiculed by opponents. It is nothing more and nothing less than inchoate anger ---because how many people actually understand how broken it is? --- at a financial system that has brought the economy to its knees, And how can you propose credible reforms when you don't even know how severe the next problem is yet?