You would have to be blind not to see what is happening in the world right now, everywhere, as a whole. All within the past few months, we have the Arab Spring, riots in the U.K., months of student protests in Chile, and mass demonstrations in Greece and Italy, just to name a few. This is not, as some American politicians would claim, a sign from god that U.S. federal spending is out of control, although it does, obviously, have a lot to do with economics. All of these events are the direct fallout of the world recession. Although certain voices will predictably try to explain away the London riots as “bad parenting” and mistake the Arab Spring as a movement solely about, alternatively, “democracy” or “Islamism,” none can explain why these events are happening now—as opposed to some other time. Unruly teenagers have been patrolling the streets of London without parental supervision for as long as anyone can remember, and the Arabs’ scorn for their dictators is, of course, nothing new. Why now?
It’s the recession. And it’s so obviously the recession that even a voice as comfortable with the status quo as the BBC has been forced to admit that it’s the recession, and even to coyly suggest that the unrest might be on its way to the keep of the castle: The United States of America.
When he warned of the potential of the current economic situation to lead to rioting, even Michael Bloomberg was forced to see reality. Then, just last week, he saw a little bit more of it, right up close. For the most part, the media has been ignoring the story, but we are currently on day #8 of a movement — largely student-led — to occupy Wall Street. This naive movement falls far short of a riot, and it represents the most infantile form of pseudo-Leftism possible, so we should not take it too seriously, but it is, nevertheless, a sign. Let’s read what it has to say.
Back in May, Selecting Stones explained that the Arab Spring has already arrived in the U.S., but that it came in the form of right-wing populism, that is to say, in the form of the Tea Party. The Tea Party does, to a small degree, express the legitimate grievances of working-class Americans. For the most part, however, it is a movement which expressly represents the objective interests of well-to-do (although not super-wealthy) small business owners, who, themselves, have interests diametrically opposed to those of their employees, the actual working Americans, a few of whom, unfortunately, have been sucked into the orbit of this movement which, in reality, does nothing but spit in their faces. Nevertheless, the small portion of Tea Party rhetoric which does actually throw a bone to the real concerns of working Americans represents the arrival, in embryonic form, of those same pressures that gave way to the Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt. Let us call the Tea Party “Phase #1”.
Phase #2 began last week with the action to occupy Wall Street. It is quite clearly an upper-middle-class movement of the snot-nosed spoiled brats of the Clinton years, who, in spite of their revolutionary slogans, in fact, want nothing more than to have their student loan debt forgiven. After spending $100,000 on a law degree, it must, indeed, be quite upsetting to suddenly realize that there are already way too many lawyers out there. The New York Times, whatever its motivation may be, today published what is nonetheless a relatively honest portrait of the Wall Street protesters. Much like the Seattle demonstrations of 1999 and, indeed, the events of May 1968 in France, what we have before us is a childlike “Leftism” which, in reality, amounts to nothing more than the complacent boredom of a Capitol Hill intern sporting a Che Guevara hat, a complacency which stems, largely, from the complacency of the intern’s own wealthy parents. Wall Street bankers don’t give a shit about their veganism, and, in fact, they probably assume correctly that the lack of protein in their diet makes them even less of a threat!
Nevertheless, what is happening now in the Financial District of New York is important, if only because it demonstrates that the embryo of Phase #1 may be on the verge of transforming itself into the fetus of Phase #2. As the bright night descends over Manhattan, the protesters find themselves practicing yoga in the park that they’ve occupied. When yoga gives way to cases of Coors Light, then we’ll know that we’ve passed into Phase #3.
The rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer. This is nothing new. That’s how capitalism works. The recession has simply made it easier to see. We Americans would all rather just sit at home and watch television. There is a point on the horizon, however, at which this option will no longer be viable.