Lament for a Wall Street Protest

Democracy in your Face - Pepperspray Wall Street Davis

Democracy in your face. Pepperspray at close range, protestors were then handcuffed and dragged away.

In the last couple of weeks, the Occupy Wall Street protests have been broken up in New York City and elsewhere – students in California braving batons and pepper spray in truly disturbing clashes with campus police. Despite their staying power – after almost two months the news media is tired of reporting on them – they didn’t really accomplish much, despite their creative consensus building and action committees. Nevertheless it’s still remarkable, and the results will hopefully be felt, come election time in the United States. Even since the 2008 financial crisis, plenty of work has been released dealing with the financial system, in all different kinds of media from film to literature. From the documentary Inside Job to the more recent film Margin Call, all laying bare the machinations of the financial system. There is plenty to protest about, the revolving door between Washington and Wall Street, the billions in executive bonuses, but more importantly how Banks and other financial institutions privatize profit and socialize losses.

William D. Cohan wrote a book called Money and Power: How Goldman Sachs Came to Rule the World said in an interview with Jon Stewart on the Daily Show “I’m not a violent person [...] but I dodn’t understand why there hasn’t been protests in the street about Wall Street did here.” That comes form someone who worked on Wall Street for almost twenty years. While the immediate reaction was one of disgust the mobs didn’t come until recently, probably a combination of things but most immediately as a result of the U. S. reaching the debt ceiling. In the end people took to the streets, but it seemed they wanted to start society anew, reduce the role of government, but spread the wealth – that’s not going to fly. In the end they didn’t have a consistent message, they were just there, and now they’re gone. Polls showed that at the beginning, most Americans were behind the protestors, but as things dragged on support waned. The problem was, there was no clear message, what started as a protest against greed and corruption on Wall Street, turned into a free-for-all on the wealthy and government in general. I’m not saying they need a PR consultant to give them a slick slogan and talking points, but they do need a direction, some kind of goal.

It’s a crying shame, had they focussed on real, actionable change, they might have got something done – two concrete policy issues come to mind: financial reform and taxes. The promised changes in financial regulation have no teeth – Wall Street lobbyists are helping write it, and only a small portion of the promised reforms have actually been enacted, the rest hasn’t been written yet. With regards to taxes, the rich need to start carrying more of the tax burden, period. While concrete policy intiatives might be a little lame for the hemp-wearing drum-beating crowd, it might have had more of an effect.

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