When I first saw videos of protesters being carted off in mid-September, I expected "Occupy Wall Street" to be nothing more than a flash in the pan. After all, discontentment aimed at our nation's financial elite is nothing new and has become commonplace since the beginning of the financial crisis. As the movement has gained momentum, grabbing headlines and aligning itself with the Arab Spring, my interest has been further piqued and I now feel compelled to share some thoughts on this. Provided some protesters still have some battery life left on their smartphones, this might even make it to Liberty Park.
Depending on whom one reads or listens to, the Occupy Wall Street movement can either be characterized by the broad variety of its participants or the lack of any concrete demands of the protesters. While the former trait demonstrates the universal appeal of the protest, the latter is the criticism most often directed at those occupying Zuccotti Park and other locations across the country. The Adbusters poster which helped launch the protest (http://tinyurl.com/3ghjbne) asks the simple question: What Is Our One Demand? Answering this question, I believe, should be a fundamental priority of the protesters nearly three weeks after the protests began.
The Occupy Wall Street movement, in its current form, is a hard sell for the average American. Few among the 99% of less fortunate Americans would consider themselves to be adequately represented by these protests. Revolutions aim at overthrowing an existing order. That Occupy Wall Street appears to be aimed at toppling the financial system rather than some government is troubling. While few, even among the most vehement protesters, would argue that Washington D.C. is comparable to Mubarak or Gaddafi's regimes, many of the protesters seem to believe that this protest is similar to those we have seen in the Arab Spring. The unfortunate truth is that ridding the United States of Wall Street will do little to better the plight of the 99%, if not significantly worsen it. Who will loan to businesses once America's great banks will be destroyed? Are the protesters at Liberty Park ready to pool their savings in order to help Main Street run its businesses and pay the 99% its wages? Probably not.
Matt Taibbi is wrong to callthe 'vampire squid.' By focusing on one scapegoat, he occults the depth and breadth of the problem faced by the 99% of Americans the protesters purport to represent. The true vampire squid is not Goldman Sachs, it is the nexus of political and business relationships which have effectively turned our nation into a corporatocracy rather than the representative democracy imagined by the United States' founding fathers. Goldman Sachs is not the only company lobbying our government whether though campaign contributions or other means. Hundreds of financial firms and industrial companies of all stripes have a vested interest in the political process in Washington D.C. And so do we, the 99%. Evidently, the typical voter is outmatched by large corporations in his effort to gain his elected representative's ear. Corporations' interests are far less diffuse and are easier to define than the needs of the average voter. Furthermore, the 99%, by definition, does not have the same means as a large corporation. Reclaiming the ear of Washington D.C. is one of the aims of those participating in Occupy Wall Street. I believe this aim should motivate the protesters' "one demand."
When looking at the broad canvas of History, the winners are remembered for what they stood for, the losers for what they stood against. When Barack Obama was elected, he seemed poised to become the president who brought change, cementing a legacy among the greatest presidents this nation has seen. Instead, President Obama has distinguished himself by his disinclination to ruffle feathers, a strategy which alienates both his base and his opponents, and which is part of the reason the Occupy Wall Street protest is occurring. The Tea Party has secured its chapter in the story of this long financial crisis. By precipitating the debt ceiling drama and forcing the United States onto the path of austerity, they have made their small contribution to our current situation. They will never be more than a chapter, however, because they did not stand for a healthy, only against a rise of the debt ceiling. How else to explain their adamant refusal to increase government revenues? If the Occupy Wall Street movement is to be more than just a footnote in these dark times, Occupy Wall Street needs to find something to fight for, it's "one demand."
What should this one demand be? I believe ending the influence of money on our elected representatives should be the goal of these protests. This could be achieved with new campaign rules and an entity with the power to enforce them. While some will be loath to fund another governmental organization and see an increase in regulation, this should be more than offset by the end of the countless tax breaks and byzantine regulations obtained by lobbyists and campaign donations. Furthermore, reducing the influence of money in politics should open the door for a true third party, one that could more accurately represent the needs of the 99%. The Republican and Democratic parties can no longer be characterized by what they stand for, only what they are against. By cloaking this with ideology and an illusory conservative-liberal clash, party leadership still manages to draw voters to the polls. Yet it should be obvious that the political process serves only to defend the interests of those who invest the most money into it. The issue of delegation versus representation is non-existent in Washington today and the question of whether our government represents its electors or corporations is asked far too seldom.
In sum, all I hope from the protesters on Wall Street is that they turn their attention to Washington D.C. and demand that money be taken out of politics. A government that truly had the best interests of its people in mind would not give Wall Street or corporate America the breaks they receive while trying to appeal to the typical voter on social issues that will never be addressed once in office. If there is a revolution to be had, it is the reclaiming of American democracy by the people. And this is not an issue that matters to the 99% or the 1%. It matters to all of us.
A member of the 99%.