Occupy Wall Street

By David Cay Johnston
October 7, 2011

By David Cay Johnston
The views expressed are his own.

Pay close attention to the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations in New York and around the United States, especially if the protests endure through the cold months into the election year spring or if the New York police are ordered to violently end the demonstrations, which would ensure they spread.

The protests show signs of sparking a major change in U.S. politics by creating common ground among people with wildly divergent views. The key to their significance will be whether they foster a wholesale change in political leadership in 2013 or whether Americans return a vast majority of incumbents in both parties at all levels of government.

Occupy Wall Street differs fundamentally from the many demonstrations I have covered over more than four decades. Instead of people with similar specific interests — anti-war, anti-rape, Tea Partiers — these demonstrators come with widely varying views, experiences and backgrounds, yet unite around a common theme: bankers are ripping off America.

Two secondary themes also emerge in talking to some of the hundreds of people occupying Zuccotti Park. One is that the super rich own the politicians. The other is that the news media, almost across the board, view events through the eyes of the rich.

The protests have grown from a few hundred people to the thousands who marched on Wednesday evening.

Even Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, sympathizes with the protesters. He told the Joint Economic Committee of Congress on Wednesday:

“Very generally, I think people are quite unhappy with the state of the economy and what’s happening. They blame, with some justification, the problems in the financial sector for getting us into this mess, and they’re dissatisfied with the policy response here in Washington. And at some level, I can’t blame them. Certainly 9 percent unemployment and very slow growth is not a good situation.”

In a television interview Warren Buffett sided with them. While many of the demonstrators seemed ill-informed, he said, the “feeling is real and there is enough basis in that feeling that we want to get rid of that basis,” which he described as unfair taxes and lack of jobs.

Listen to the people packing Zuccotti Park, a privately owned urban space just off Wall Street, and you will hear common themes from libertarians and liberals, truck drivers and college professors, atheists and believers.

Some are articulate, others inchoate. But there is absolute agreement that the super rich, especially the financiers, are sophisticated thieves who steal not with guns, but something called derivatives.

Dan Halloran, a New York City councilman from Queens with an affinity for libertarians like Republican U.S. Congressman Ron Paul, waded into the crowd and kept people interested in his views on the economy’s failings and the need for markets.

“From what I saw on TV I would have thought that everyone here would be a communist, under 30, never held a job,” he said, describing that media image as cartoonish. He said people with whom he had spoken, including those with whom he disagreed fundamentally, were both eager to work and afraid, not knowing what happened exactly, but insistent that they needed work and that their elected leaders seemed not to care.

Brendan Burke, a truck driver and punk rock musician who studied philosophy in college, said since the protests began almost three weeks ago, “I have heard a thousand different things people are concerned about — inadequate teacher pay, no jobs, the rich not paying their fair share of taxes and all of it was about how we working people are not getting a fair shake.”

Burke said he expected the protests to gather strength because “this oppressiveness has been going on for years; its quiet, the way the bankers constructed this mess — and nothing is being done to them.”

When I went down there on Tuesday, some asked me why no bankers had been indicted. Excellent question with no answer unless you believe the financier class exercises control over the government, enabling financial crimes through incomprehensible rules.

Each person I asked, including some in suits who came by for a gander, said they expected the mayor eventually to order the park cleared, possibly on the pretext of public sanitation. Never mind that the Constitution safeguards the right to assemble peaceably and to petition the government for a redress of grievances without a time limit.

New York’s billionaire mayor found time and money to have police barricade the Wall Street bull, that bronze symbol of faith in growing stock prices. But Michael Bloomberg has spent not even a dollar on portable restrooms to help citizens exercise their constitutional rights while maintaining sanitary conditions in his fair city.

Aristotle taught, “Democracy is when the indigent, and not the men of property, are the rulers.” That ancient insight may be unknown to many of the demonstrators, but the concept imbues Occupy Wall Street, which has the potential to change America from what Aristotle would describe as an oligarchy back into a representative democracy.

PHOTO: A demonstrator sits near a make-shift tent during the Occupy Wall Street protest outside the Federal Reserve Bank in San Francisco, California October 5, 2011. REUTERS/Stephen Lam


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I think they are rightfully angry and frustrated with the high unemployment and the deteriorating standard of living of the middle class and I applaude them for their non-violent protests. However, to maximize their message, I would like to see them get better organized, and focus on selecting 8 or 10 of their most important objections. This demonstration could become a major force in politics if the right message(s) gets out. Most importantly, I think they are focused on Wall Street, which is the result, not the cause. Wall Street has only taken advantage of the playing rules (or lack of same) Congress gave them. The protesters’ focus should be on Congress and the lobbists, who have far more influence on our elected officials than we do. I don’t think protesters or Congress realizes how many American citizens back the protesters.

Posted by dbudro | Report as abusive

A petition has been posted to the “We The People” White House web page, asking the Administration to implement Voter Referendums on issues that the Washington political system is unable ( or unwilling ) to resolve.

Details can be seen at http://wh.gov/4rM and if you agree with the aims, please give it your support and sign the petition.

Posted by philpearl | Report as abusive

The Daily Mail is a British tabloid. You wouldn’t quote the Enquirer, a US sensational tabloid, would you?
All the photos taken by people I know or know through others are showing people doing art, protesting peacefully with senses of humor, collaborating, planning, cleaning, and helping each other.
Don’t buy into it! The defamation of the protestors is what the 1% wants. Think about it – it’s going to get cold in NYC really soon…those people care enough to be there. The least we can do is not spread gossipy magazine crud about them.

Posted by Camille82 | Report as abusive

What is needed is a 35 hour work week and a way that the wealth can be divided more justly.

Posted by Michael1984 | Report as abusive

Everyone has a different complaint… the heart or root of the problem is the structure of “corporations”. They allow the 1%, the board members etc. to decide who gets what. Thus, the members vote themselves a 3 million dollar salary, while deciding their janitor deserves only $30,000 a year. Thus one goes home to a mansion in a beautiful neighbor, while the other to a government project apartment in the Bronx, where he send s his children to failing schools. Where they are being educated to take their father’s place as future janitors when dad retires.

Posted by voxon123 | Report as abusive

The beast we seek has a thick hard skin but we can get to him from within. We can start with the corrupt Washington D.C.. The ones who make it possable for the beast to enslave us.

Posted by RAY1933 | Report as abusive

I agree that “Occupy Wall Street” needs to get organized. Do they want a flat tax? Do they want more regulation of Wall Street? They can also get more of the 99% of the country they believe they represent behind them if they could better articulate exactly what they want from their government. They can become a very powerful group during the 2012 election year.

Posted by PatG | Report as abusive

The board members are responsible for delivering value to their shareholders, employees and customers. They are likely graduates of good schools and universities where they likely studied hard to achieve their goals. They have probably spent a great deal of their time away from their families as they developed a career. The janitor is probably a high school dropout, who didn’t have the skill, knowledge or talent (perhaps opportunity, though with all the grants/aid available that’s hard to believe)to get out of the Bronx, to move somewhere to improve his children’s chances of success. There is no reason for someone who has been brought up to earn $30K should “have” to live in the Bronx if they don’t want to live there, and LOTS of people succeed who’s parents were janitors – I know I did. My dad worked as a union laborer for the garment workers union until they drove the manufacturers out of business with unreasonable demands. He ended up (at 55 years of age with 2 children at home/in school) working as a janitor for the Bd. of Ed, in a non-union job, to help his family, until he died.

Posted by Phula | Report as abusive

we need to change congress get the money out get the lobbists out. sign get the money out.com

Posted by roussellej | Report as abusive

Republicans have made an official announcement that The American Dream was actually intended to be called The American Fantasy. Everyone should adjust their thinking accordingly, get over themselves, and let the wealthy do what the hell they want because they are Job Creators.

Posted by Hodja1 | Report as abusive

The President,as leader of his party, once again expressed that every American should pay his fair share in taxes. One sizable loophole in the Federal Tax Code is TAX EXCLUSION INCOME. It is time to do something about this unfair tax revenue placed disproportionally on small business & especially the self-reliant. The President is correct we are all in this mess together. It is time to correct the inequity of Tax Exclusion income for some rather than for all workers earning income & paying taxes on all received income. There is no reason for this inequity especially after the President many request for equity.

Posted by buckaroo5 | Report as abusive