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Rights + Justice

Elites Foolish to Dismiss Occupy Wall Street

The movement is inevitable, unstoppable and unpredictable.

Rafe Mair 17 Oct

Rafe Mair writes a column for The Tyee every second Monday. Read his previous columns here. He is also a founding contributor to The Common Sense Canadian.

The Occupy Wall Street movement should come as no surprise. It certainly doesn't to me, as I've been saying -- in print -- that the gap between the rich and the poor with the slow extermination of the middle class was a traditional recipe for serious unrest. While history doesn't necessarily repeat itself, common factors usually reach similar consequences.

Here's what I wrote in April 2010 for the Russia-based Strategic Culture Foundation magazine under "Thoughts on Communism and Capitalism":

"Although communism may be dead in fact if not name, the conditions that spawned and nurtured it are very much with us today. Large corporations have replaced the noblemen, the dwindling middle class is no buffer between the haves and the have-nots, and the rich get richer. Not much different than 1917... Change, unpredictable change, is coming to your home and sooner than you think!"

I frankly believe that the Occupy Wall Street movement, which did its Occupy Art Gallery last Saturday in Vancouver, is part of the civil unrest in the Arab world as well, in the sense that in all cases governments lost their moral right to govern coupled with the factors I mentioned above.

Statistics abound demonstrating the growing gap between the rich and the poor. Paul Bentley in the Globe and Mail in June 2010 says (and this statement seems to be common): "Ten per cent of the total personal income in America was taken home by the top 0.1 per cent of earners in 2008 -- the latest year for which figures are available.

"The top one per cent took home more than a fifth of all personal income in the U.S."

I have written about billionaires recently, asking how in hell can anyone accumulate 70 thousand million dollars -- that is 70 billion dollars -- as has Carlos Slim, from Mexico would you believe!

According to Forbes Magazine, there are now 1,200 billionaires in the world.

It's not the number of billionaires that matter. They are the pimples, not the measles. The problem is more basic than that, namely that the failure of banking institutions, which led to the recession, which led to unemployment, which led to the erosion of the middle class, happened because governments did not have regulations in place, and those they had weren't enforced.

Outrage at the Teflon wealthy

If the collapse of banking institutions weren't enough, the public money that went into saving the banks/brokerage houses was paid out, in large and in public gestures, to executives by way of bonuses!

In short, governments, especially in the U.K. and the U.S., failed to regulate and failed to enforce their own laws. And then, having used public money to revive economies, governments passively watched the bail-out recipients take that money as rewards for mismanagement.

A poor man who steals for food goes to jail; a man who steals hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, goes home to one of his residences full of million dollar art as if nothing had happened -- then finds that shortly after his company went broke that he was richer than ever!

Poor people, unemployed people, are not stupid. The reason that Occupy Wall Street is able to sustain protests all over the world should be obvious -- the failure of capitalism is so egregious that the poor masses all over the western world saw these shenanigans and need little prodding to take them to the streets.

Next moves

The question is, what now?

One possibility is that, like a grassfire, the movement quickly burns itself out with no obvious consequence. In my view, you can forget this scenario. Even if the "movement" does burn out, there will be lasting results if only the lesson that there are a hell of a lot of angry people out there looking for a way to unleash that anger.

I believe that the movement will look for a leader. In fact, the vacuum in leadership is so obvious that it will come; or perhaps more than one leadership hopeful will appear. It's instructive, I think, to look at the Russian Revolution in 1917.

It's interesting to note that this revolution was not, despite Soviet fairy tales, started by heroic communists. In fact, it sprang from angered people from all walks of life. The president of the first provisional government was Alexander Kerensky from March 1917 to November 1917. His biggest problem was that he was from the middle class. It was not until November that the Bolsheviks, in a coup, took over.

The advantage the ruling elites have today is that the OWS movement is in so many different countries. That, I believe, can and will be overcome by modern technology.

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out in the U.S., especially in the pre-November 2012 Democratic and Republican electoral tap-dancing leading to their respective conventions.

The governing elites will, of course, remain in denial and will make no moves toward dealing with the underlying causes for these (so far) peaceful protests. They will bring out their "obey the laws" argument and, like the Russian elite in 1917, will assume that it will all blow over.

It won't. The genie is out of the bottle and the bottle has been smashed to bits.

God only knows what will happen now.

[Find similar Tyee stories in: Politics.]  [Tyee]

Read more: Rights + Justice, Politics

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