In September 2011, a protest movement called “Occupy Wall Street” appeared across the United States. Responding to a call by the anti-consumerism group Adbusters, protestors began congregating at what Adbusters called “the financial Gomorrah of America”: Wall Street, New York City. Soon, similar protest “occupations” mushroomed in many other cities from Washington DC to Seattle and even internationally.
Though sometimes involving a wide range of political ideologies and concerns, the Occupy Wall Street protests have centered on issues like ending the political dominance of corporations and Wall Street in government as well as addressing problems of socio-economic inequality.
As the Adbuster’s proclamation put it, “It’s time for DEMOCRACY NOT CORPORATOCRACY.” And a common slogan heard among protestors is “We Are The 99 percent that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1 percent.”
A populist impulse thus motivates the protests with this idea of the 99 percent versus 1 percent being a recurring theme. There is also sometimes an underlying nationalist sentiment, as an occasional refrain among protestors is “taking back America” — reflecting similar political rhetoric used by the Tea Party.
However, some activists of color have noted the relative marginalization of racial minorities in the Occupy Wall Street protests and questioned whether the movement truly advocates for the interests of 99 percent of the population as claimed. Or does it mostly serve the interests of the (White) middle class who have had their sense of economic privilege and belief in the American Dream shattered with the 2008 Wall Street financial crash and economic recession?
As the article “Call Out to People of Color” on the website, www.Racialicious.com stated: Let’s be real. The economic crisis did not begin with the collapse of the Lehman Brothers in 2008. Indeed, people of color and poor people have been in a state of crisis since the founding of this country, and for indigenous communities, since before the founding of the nation. We have long known that capitalism serves only the interests of a tiny, mostly white, minority. Black and brown folks have long known that whenever economic troubles ‘necessitate’ austerity measures and the people are asked to tighten their belts, we are the first to lose our jobs, our children’s schools are the first to lose funding, and our bodies are the first to be brutalized and caged.
Moreover, the economic austerity measures that many protestors in the U.S. oppose are ironically milder versions of the destructive policies that America has imposed on Third World nations for decades. Often working through proxy institutions like the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank, the United States has forced other countries to adopt “structural adjustment policies,” which have impoverished billions of people in the Global South to a more profound degree than that experienced by Americans. According to the World Bank, 1.4 billion people around the globe live below the international poverty line of earning $1.25 a day — thanks significantly to free market capitalism and the U.S. economic policy called the Washington Consensus.
The response of the American establishment to the Wall Street protests in particular has been a predictable combination of repression and cooptation.
For instance, the New York Police Department has engaged in police brutality against protestors in Manhattan with the use of pepper spray, beatings, and mass arrests. And Republicans like Eric Cantor, Newt Gingrich, and Herman Cain have criticized the protestors as divisive or mob-like.
Conversely, Democrats like Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Joseph Biden have expressed “solidarity” with the protests. Curiously, even some Wall Street plutocrats like George Soros have proclaimed sympathy for this anti-Wall Street movement.
This supposed solidarity, however, is manipulative and self-serving.
The Democrat Party and its political satellites like trade unions and elite-funded “grassroots” organizations are attempting to hijack the Occupy Wall Street movement and channel it towards supporting Democrat Party candidates for the 2012 election.
Despite its veneer of being a “progressive” party, the Democrats are a party of Wall Street and US capitalism as much as the Republicans. The differences between the two are that of style and tactics in the implementation of similar capitalist austerity measures and market reforms.
One has only to remember that Barack Obama actually received more financial donations from Wall Street than John McCain did in the 2008 election, that the Obama regime has been filled with Wall Street insiders like Lawrence Summers and Michael Froman, and that Congressional Democrats in general supported the $700 billion bank bailout popularly known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).
Republicans are the capitalist bad cop, while Democrats are the capitalist good cop.
Ruling over a society characterized by explosive inequality, American oligarchs can deploy a variety of tactics to defuse public discontent: demonize and repress political opposition, feign sympathy and coopt it, or redirect it elsewhere.
This last tactic should be of concern to Asian Americans in particular. The US political establishment has a track record of whipping up nationalism and xenophobia to divert populist anger over economic issues towards scapegoats, including Asian ones. This type of demagoguery can profoundly impact Asian Americans, as evidenced by examples throughout US history from the Chinese Exclusion Act of the nineteenth century to the “Japan bashing” of the 1980s. And this history has resonance today with anti-immigrant nativism and anti-Chinese “sinophobia” increasingly on the rise in the U.S.