Sunday, October 16, 2011


"We are the 99%" said one sign. "Regulate Wall Street Now" said another. "Tax the rich" screamed a red one. The word "Revolution" was prominent on many placards and a red flag with Che Guevara's face unfurled in the wind. There was a broadsheet news paper being circulated called "The OCCUPY Wall Street Journal". There were many swaying in a loud drum circle drawing attention from everyone passing by. There was a make shift alter with an idol of Ganesh next to Jesus with people sitting around in seeming meditation. A half naked couple with paint on their body were moving intensely to the drumming. A concoction of cigarette smoke, marijuana, body odor and Halal chicken filled the air. Young men and women were strewn on the floor in sleeping bags and on tarpaulin as though this were the "Burning Man" gathering or a homeless people's convention. Policemen with enough hardware to take down any assault surrounded the park on all sides. Media trucks with their antennae high up against the shiny ornate skyscrapers kept busy. A makeshift kitchen serving donated pizza, wheat grass and vegan creations for the health conscious was active. A woman was talking to Amy Goodman from "Democracy Now" on camera about sustainable farming, eating and living. A group of native South American men and women were dancing to drumming performing what seemed like a Mayan ritual. Then there were men and women intensely locked in debate about the state of the world, America, Capitalism, Marxism, the war and everything in between. This was no carnival or Haight-Ashbury of the 60's, this was and is the "Occupy Wall Street" protest in downtown Manhattan.

The "Occupy Wall Street" protest which is almost two months in the making, has captured the attention of the world by refusing to budge. As it ebbs and flows in numbers, it has also sparked similar protests across the nation and the world. From New York to New Zealand, people have gathered in major capitals to protest against what they see is a failure of the system to deliver the basics. The people involved in the protest are essentially angry and disgusted by what they see is a nexus between government and corporations. What they hope to achieve is immaterial at the moment. What they have done is become an inconvenience that draws attention to a smorgasbord of issues, which are then discussed in the media when there is nothing else to cover in the 24/7 news cycle. From corporate greed, taxing the rich, health care for all, end to war and corruption, they want a return to a version of capitalism that is more equitable. With that message they have been able to galvanize the sentiments of young and old across a wide spectrum, who have seen America's treasures squandered in irresponsible ways at the expense of too many.

2011 will go down in history as the year of the protest. From the spontaneous revolution which overthrew a dictator in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, to the uprising in Yemen, Bahrain and Syria, there is unrest and rage in abundance. From the populist Anna Hazare anti-corruption movement in India that almost toppled the government, to the violent street protests in London, Milan, Madrid and Athens, anger against the establishment is real and palpable. From dictators to the corporate glitterati and the political establishment, as the disconnect grows ever so wide and capitalism looses its shine, and people are left with no future, anger rises to the surface. Much like what happened during the French and Russian revolution, there is a sense around the world that some people are getting away with more than their fair share.

As Europe deals with a financial crisis of epic proportion and turns to China (a communist country) for a life line, a long term solution seems elusive. With Spain reporting the highest unemployment rate of 21% in the developed world, it is evident that things are going to get worse for the west before they get any better. While the markets go through volatile fluctuations, it seems like all the parameters that measure economic stability are in a state of chaos. Unemployment is rising across the globe, inflation in a booming economy like India is out of control, housing markets are in a slump, yet Wall Street celebrates profits and big banks in America and elsewhere post quarterly gains, and top executives in England increase their salaries by 50%. The world seems to be operating on an upside down principle of economics. While there is never a shortage of resources to spawn wars, build military hardware and bail out banks, there never seems to be enough to meet the basic needs of the people the governments get elected to serve.

This month the worlds population will reach a record seven billion. By 2025 that number is predicted to increase to eight billion. With only one planet to live off of, the future does not look bright for the human race. Water and food shortages, unemployment, conflict and global warming are predicted to wreak havoc causing mass protests and migration. The strain on the planet is already being felt in Bangladesh, Sub-Saharan Africa, Pacific Island nation of Tuvalu and elsewhere. We as a species inhabit one sphere. But the imaginary borders that divide us and create an illusion that developed nations are immune to the ravages of poverty and destitution are now being challenged. What the present situation demonstrates is that the "third world" has successfully entered the developed world and the "Occupy Wall Street" protest in some manner channels the angst of that burgeoning world.

I think it is still premature to call the "Occupy Wall Street" a movement. Unlike the mass protests of the sixties, which brought civil rights to a nation and an end to a war in a far of land, this protest still struggles to find a singular demand. That is both its strength and its weakness. Much like the Egyptian revolution that overthrew a brutal dictator by largely staying apolitical, but with a clear sense for justice, the "Occupy Wall Street" protest at its core is demanding a level of fairness and accountability. This idea in itself gives it strength and legitimacy and motivates people to endure the bitter cold in the middle of the financial district in Manhattan. Whether this protest will actually evolve into a mass movement, drawing strong leaders and other vested interests, only time and weather will tell.

In the recent past the incestuous collusion between the media, political establishment and corporations has been revealed time and again. The Murdoch/News Corp. scandal is the most recent example. The conglomeration of big business made possible by that collusion threatens healthy competition and corrupts the true nature of capitalism. Capitalism and democracy are often considered to be synonymous. But what we learn from the recent financial collapse is that there is no room for democracy when unbridled capitalism reigns supreme. It is not ironic though that we have seen a form of capitalism thrive in a draconian communist society like China. Undoubtedly aided by a demand for cheap goods and services from the west.

"There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide" said John Adams the sixth president of America. In some ways the "Occupy Wall Street" protest brings to light the early signs of a system that is feeding on itself. When a comatose congress in Washington fails to serve its people in a time of crisis, that is a sign of a democracy failing. A healthy democracy is where through checks and balances and debate, solutions to big problems are arrived at no matter the political price. All they arrive at today in most governments around the world is grid lock and apathy.

To a large extent capitalism and democracy in the west has been a successful experiment. Wealth has been more equally distributed than in most places. But that equation seems to have shifted dramatically over the last two decades, and a kind of oligarchy seems to have emerged. The anger that we see in the streets today is in part a resentment of that fact. What protest movements do is push for change. And change always begins on a minuscule level and then mutates into something consequential. The suicide of a street vendor eventually lead to the overthrow of a dictator in Tunisia. What I noticed at Zuccotti Park in downtown Manhattan was a group of people coalesce around a spirit. A spirit to do something. Even if it just meant banging on a drum or annoying the police or thumbing a man walking in a suit, there was a real desire and a realization that this was an important moment in time. One could dismiss that commitment as youthful indulgence or call them a bunch of whining hippies jealous of the rich and successful, which many openly have. But there is no denying that it is youthful indulgence that motivated Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Fred Shuttlesworth, Nelson Mandela, Wangari Mathai and an old woman in a wheel chair in Oakland to march. It is what it is.