A lot has been written in the past few days about Occupy Wall Street and the nascent Occupy Toronto movement – most of it negative. To be fair the coverage isn’t overly critical. Outside of the Toronto Sun’s typical lack of nuance in labeling each and every participant or sympathizer a “Marxist”, the common narrative, conversely, is that the biggest weakness of the Occupy movement is that it is in fact not a monolith.
The movement has been criticized for being leaderless, and thus no more than a weak alliance of specialized (or if you want to be pejorative: myopic) protest groups whose goals span the spectrum of the political left (and right) from anti-globalization to animal rights to supporters of indigionous people. Sprinkle in a few bored 20-somethings looking for some greater sense of purpose (and maybe a girl or guy to meet) and you get a disorganized group tied together by nothing more than a general sense of anxiety about the status quo.
These are fair criticisms, ones that can be thrown at any organized protest movement, not just Occupy Toronto. But does that take anything away from the ultimate purpose that brought these people together? It seems that by asserting there is no commonality between these activists, by calling them hypocrites (how can someone criticize corporations while using an iphone, many have asked), by their failure to clearly and coherently state their demands, that there must be no problem. Only look around you and you know it isn’t so.
What is the impetus of the Occupy Wall Street movement and its North American wide offshoots? Mind numbing and infuriating examples of corporate greed seem so commonplace that the next incident to grab headlines is only a week away. What is it about this very moment that has everyone so up in arms? Adbusters, the anti-consumerist magazine who floated the idea in the first place explained their decision as having stemmed from a lack of action on the part of the Obama administration to criminally prosecute any of the main actors behind 2008’s global financial crisis. But why this sense of urgency three years after the fact?
I believe that many people understand that we stand on the doorstep of a similar meltdown, one brought on for many of the same reasons, hell even by some of the same actors who chiseled us and set our economy back a decade, three autumns ago.
Stop me if this sounds familiar: a number of very large financial institutions desperate to receive obscene interest payments off of some poor sucker- I mean client, cook the books so that they can procure unnecessarily large loans for that same client, knowing full well that there is an incredibly large measure of risk (and suggesting they didn’t know their client would ever go under is generous!) that the payments will one day stop. But the money (your money!) has been moved in such large amounts (a necessary step to make money on the low interest rates) that the collapse of the Western world’s entire financial system is at stake if these loans are not repaid. Facing economic ruin and all that comes with it (high unemployment, currency not worth the paper its printed on, the elimination of the social safety net) should the client default, Western governments (taxpayers) are forced to bailout the irresponsible client to pay off the financial institutions. Add to this recipe the machinations of others who are in on the fix and stand to profit from the client’s default and voila, you have Fall 2008 redux. And we’ll pay for it again – both literally and figuratively.
Imagine placing other people’s money on bets you know to be wreckless, even stupid, with the ace up your sleeve that should the shit hit the fan, those same people have no choice but to cut their losses and bail you out so that they are subject to partial rather than absolute ruin. This is happening every day. The game is fixed in everyone’s favor but our’s. It’s like that Mad Magazine cover with the revolver held directly to the bewildered dog’s head: “If you don’t buy this magazine we’ll kill this dog”. We’re the dog and Goldman Sachs is holding the gun. We’re reliving the grand larceny of 2008 solely because we failed to remove the pistol from the extortionist’s hand these past three years. This is the true cause of the Occupy movement.
And we shouldn’t ignore those who wish to point that out just because their message can’t be codified in a soundbyte or slogan. Sure the explanations we hear are seemingly disparate, contradictory, even derivative. We live in a complex world, and few causes can be summed up so succinctly. And this is not one of them.