The whole thing started in July as a stunt by Vancouver culture jammers Adbusters, the people who invented Buy Nothing Day. " Once there, we shall incessantly repeat one simple demand in a plurality of voices..... we demand that Barack Obama ordain a Presidential Commission tasked with ending the influence money has over our representatives in Washington. It's time for DEMOCRACY NOT CORPORATOCRACY, we're doomed without it."
But it has taken on a life of its own.
It has spread far beyond Wall Street and even beyond the American border. Some surprising voices are noticing; this New York Times editorial surprised me.
The protests, though, are more than a youth uprising. The protesters' own problems are only one illustration of the ways in which the economy is not working for most Americans. They are exactly right when they say that the financial sector, with regulators and elected officials in collusion, inflated and profited from a credit bubble that burst, costing millions of Americans their jobs, incomes, savings and home equity. As the bad times have endured, Americans have also lost their belief in redress and recovery.
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Fortune Magazine contributing editor and GreenBiz writer Marc Gunther gets it.
First, the American economy isn't working for tens of millions of people-not just the unemployed, but many more who are living from paycheck to paycheck. People are scared, frustrated, discouraged, angry or all of the above. They no longer believe that working hard and playing by the rules will give them a better life. They're probably right. Low-skilled workers in particular are disconnected from the American dream of an ever-improving standard of living.
Second, the rich powerful people who are largely but not entirely responsible for the financial crisis and the global recession - the shorthand for this group is "Wall Street" - have, for the most part, neither apologized for their actions or nor paid a price. They created the mess (yes, with the help of reckless borrowers) but they're doing fine. Come to think of it, they're doing fine because the rest of us bailed them out.
This weekend, the movement is coming to Toronto, Canada. Circumstances are different here; our CEOs earn a modest (!) 155 times the average wage compared to the American 530 times the average. The banks didn't get bailouts, they didn't slice and dice mortgages and haven't foreclosed on anyone. The unemployed all have health care and if they have student loans hanging over their heads, they are about a fifth the size of those of American grads. I mentioned this to a friend and she responded:
Frankly, I think it has everything to do with Canada. Globalization has no borders, and as a trader said recently on the BBC, "Governments don't run the world, Goldmann Sachs does". Just because our banks are regulated doesn't make the protests less relevant--they [the protesters] want to change the global corporate greed that destroys our environment (read pipelines, oilsands, etc), makes our poorest poorer and our middle-class poor, shifts manufacturing jobs to places where the people are so impoverished that they are easily abused, plays in and creates unstable economies so they can profit.
Certainly, we have a federal government that appears to care more about creating jails than jobs, that calls the tar sands "ethical." But more than anything else, I think it is about solidarity with those in America who are protesting, about wondering what is happening in and to America. That this is about frustration and fear for our future and our kids futures. I will be there on Saturday.
More on the Movement:
Why Environmentalists Should Care About the Occupy Wall Street Protest
Climate Activists Join 10,000 Protesters to Occupy Wall Street (Video)
Green Movement to Occupy Wall Street Today
Why I'm Occupying Wall Street with the Green Movement Today