The world hasn't heard much from Occupy Wall Street lately. But one branch of it, Occupy the SEC, has remained very busy -- filing amicus briefs, testifying before Congress, suing regulators and writing comment letters, including a 325-page opus on the Volcker Rule. After quickly taking stock of how it turned out Tuesday, they gave the final version a "C-". Occupy's Akshat Tewary and Eric Taylor explained what problems they still have with it.
It's been nearly two years since Occupy Wall Street took over Zuccotti Park, and the academic establishment is still chewing through questions it raised about how to understand the 1 percent in America. In particular, how did they get so darn rich? And what would happen if we took some of their money away?
At about 1 a.m. Tuesday morning, hundreds of New York City police officers raided Zuccotti Park. Police tore down tents and, according to witnesses, used tear gas, pepper spray, and at about 3 a.m., a sound cannon. Some of the protesters left immediately, quietly. Some of them joined together in the middle of the park, chanting, “Whose park? Our park!”
Police ultimately made 70 arrests and cleared the area. Their park.
In a statement released a few hours ago, Mayor Michael Bloomberg* explained the raid. “I have become increasingly concerned – as had the park’s owner, Brookfield Properties – that the occupation was coming to pose a health and fire safety hazard to the protestors and to the surrounding community. We have been in constant contact with Brookfield and yesterday they requested that the City assist it in enforcing the no sleeping and camping rules in the park. But make no mistake – the final decision to act was mine.”
Members of Occupy Wall Street are furious. Protests are being planned at various sites throughout the day. But the truth is, Bloomberg might have just done Occupy Wall Street a favor.
“Whatever the objectives of protesters involved in Occupy Wall Street, they have succeeded in engaging the country in a conversation about income inequality,” writes Dylan Byers at Ben Smith’s new and expanded blog. “A quick search of the news — including print articles, web stories and broadcast transcripts — via Nexis reveals a significant rise in the use of the term ‘income inequality,’ from less than 91 instances in the week before the occupation started to almost 500 instances last week.”
Here’s your “whoa” moment of the day: In a Friday research note, Jan Hatzius and Sven Jari Stehn begged the Federal Reserve to put its foot on the gas already and simply declare that they will do whatever is necessary to get growth back on track (read the whole document here). Who are Jan Hatzius and Sven Jari Stehn, you ask? They’re two of Goldman Sachs’s chief economists. They’re the guys who send economic analyses out to the firm’s paying clients. And they’ve just endorsed a policy that should thrill the 99 percent.
This helps to make the point, I think, that though the Occupy Wall Street folks are right that Wall Street has done a lot of damage to the economy and the top 1 percent have developed a curious ability to prosper while most Americans fall behind, in the long run, almost everyone’s interests are aligned here. Banks and corporations might be able to prosper in a bad economy for a couple of years, but they can’t do it for very long. Indeed, it seems like time might already be running out for Wall Street.
“Finally,” tweeted Ben Furnas after a weekend at the Occupy Wall Street protests, “a social movement that likes distribution tables.”
Whether you agree with their messages or not, there’s little doubt that Occupy Wall Street had the wonkiest signs of any protest movement in memory. Here are a few of our favorites:
Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.
If you’ve seen others, leave them in the comments, and I’ll add the best to the slideshow. And if you head to the underlying Flickr set, there are links back to the sources for all of the pictures.
A few days ago, the Huffington Post sent me a press alert saying that Mohammed el-Erian had written a blog post warning readers to “listen to Occupy Wall Street.” That caught my eye.
For those who don’t know el-Erian, he’s a co-CEO of PIMCO, one of the world’s largest — and wealthiest — bond trading operations, with more than $1 trillion under management. Despite being based in Southern California, PIMCO and its leaders are titans in finance. So I called el-Erian to ask him what exactly he saw in this movement that is, in large part, dedicated to combating his industry.
Ezra Klein: You’ve done quite well in finance. You have, presumably, a lot of friends in finance. But insofar as Occupy Wall Street has an agenda, it’s to shrink the power, size and compensation of the finance sector. So explain what in their message appeals to you.
Mohammed el-Erian: My reaction was colored by two views I’ve expressed already: One has to do with what has happened to finance. In the mid-2000s, the thinking about finance evolved to believing it was a standalone phase in capitalist progression. Society -- in particular the U.K. and U.S. -- bought into the notion that the path of development was agriculture to industry to services to finance. And that explains a lot in terms of people’s mindset. The name of the industry went from “the financial services” industry to “the finance industry.” It lost sight of the fact that it services the real economy. You cannot simply exchange paper.
A lot of the posts on ‘We Are the 99 Percent’ dwell on the problem of student loans. In fact, according to this textual analysis by Mike Konczal, student loans are the leading concern on the Web site. But “college graduates’ problems should be kept in perspective,” writes Josh Barro. “The unemployment rate for people with bachelor’s degrees or higher is 4.3 percent.” Here’s a graph:
College graduates have certainly had an easier time of it than, say, high school graduates. But simply looking at the unemployment numbers can understate the damage the recession has done to college graduates. After all, even the employed can suffer.
Some of the people camped out Zuccotti Park for the Occupy Wall Street protest want to End the Fed. Others want to tax Wall Street. One woman assured me that “very few” of the top one percent live in New York, or even in the United States. “They’re in gated communities all around the world,” she said. Someone else saw this as a cultural revolution. When I arrived, the crowd seemed almost entirely under-30. By the time I left, it was considerably less homogenous.
There is not, in other words, all that much you can say with confidence about what Occupy Wall Street is or isn’t. At the moment, it’s different things to different people. And, depending on your perspective, that may be the nascent movement’s biggest strength or its fatal weakness.
(On Monday, I asked Rich Yeselson for his thoughts on Occupy Wall Street. Yeselson, a research coordinator at Change to Win, is a skilled organizer and a thoughtful historian of social movements in America and Europe. On Tuesday, he sent over some notes, and I think they’re worth publishing in full. All opinions expressed here are his own. -- Ezra)
The Wall Street protests seem to be gathering strength and expanding beyond the geographic limits of downtown Manhattan. The media, too, is finally amplifying the story. Whether they will grow larger and sustain themselves beyond these initial street actions will depend upon four things: the work of skilled organizers; the success of those organizers in getting people, once these events end, to meet over and over and over again; whether or not the movement can promote public policy solutions that are organically linked to the quotidian lives of its supporters; and the ability of liberalism’s infrastructure of intellectuals, writers, artists and professionals to expend an enormous amount of their cultural capital in support of the movement.
Americans--infatuated with the next new thing, and proud to believe they are outside the constraints and burdens of history--love neophytes, gifted amateurs. We’re action-oriented and suspicious of elitist expertise, and we thrill to the idea that anybody with moxie can jump in and deliver a baby or land a 737. Right now, it appears that anti-hierarchical, relatively inexperienced people are “running” the Wall Street protest. And they are doing big demonstrations really well. So far, so good. Anger can beget action. And action itself can be a battering ram that knocks down the doors of history.