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The 99% Talk Back

De-Colonize Wall Street

by VIJAY PRASHAD

False modesty does not become the media. When it comes to the Tea Party or the Taliban, reporters are quick to offer an explanation of their motivations and their demands. When it comes to the protests of the Left, there is reticence to do any real reporting or analysis. Imagine this sentence from the Associated Press’ Verena Dobnik that opens the second paragraph in her article (“Wall Street Protest Accrues Interest,” October 2) on the Occupy Wall Street Protests (now into its third week), “They lack a clear objective, though they speak against corporate greed, social inequality, global climate change and other concerns.” It seems to me that there are at least three clear objectives in this sentence itself: to end corporate greed, to fight for social equality and to create mitigating policies to lessen climate change.

Then there’s the pure condescension. This is from Joanna Weiss of the Boston Globe (September 27), “It’s hard to take a protest fully seriously when it looks more like a circus — some participants seem to have taken a chute straight from Burning Man — and when it’s organized by a Canadian magazine and a computer-hacking group.” Is there now a dress code for democracy?

I spent an afternoon at Occupy Wall Street and in a few minutes got a flavor of the social vision have now inspired similar protests from Boston to San Francisco. “We are the 99%,” say the people who are in Zuccotti Park (Liberty Square). What they mean is simple: social policy in the country is dominated by the 1%, whose will dominates an economy that the International Monetary Fund says has entered the “danger zone.” They are right. In Ron Suskind’s new book Confidence Men, he offers us a window into the advantages given to the financial sector by theObama administration. From one side of the White House, Obama pledged to appoint Elizabeth Warren as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and from the other, more powerful side, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner assured the banks that this wouldn’t happen. Much the same occurred when Geithner’s Treasury Department prevented the restructuring of the far too powerful Citigroup. Suskind calls Geithner’s refusal to follow what appeared to be a settled decision a “fireable offense,” although Geithner remains very much in office. If Geithner had been fired, he might have accepted the job he had been offered in September 2007 by Stanford Weill, to take over Citigroup. Weill was no longer at the bank, so he had no business making a firm offer to thehead of the New York Federal Reserve. A banking analyst told Andrew Sorkin that the offer has to be seen in another light. “How else can we interpret this but as a nice juicy carrot being dangled in front of the President of the New York Fed by a bank that was going to need Fed help in a big way.” This is the world of finance capital and its politicians.

The gargantuan financial sector got us into this. Even former U. S. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan told Congress in 2008, “Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholder’s equity (myself especially) are in a state of shocked disbelief.” But this financial sector has paid nothing for the problems it has engineered.

Instead, ordinary people have been stiffed with the bill for the outrages of the financial class. No wonder that the Occupy Wall Street say the following, “We are getting kicked out of our homes. We are forced to choose between groceries and rent. We are denied quality medical care. We are suffering from environmental pollution. We areworking long hours for little pay and no rights, if we’re working at all. We are getting nothing while the other 1 percent is getting everything.”Government data confirms this sentiment. The latest gloomy report from the Pew Center details the miserable situation in the U. S. Latino sector of society. Latinos have the highest unemployment rate (11%), the greatest decline in household wealth from 2005 to 2009, the greatest food insecurity with a third of households in this condition, and 6.1 million children in poverty, the largest number for any ethnic group. The only political vision for the Latino population, crucial to Obama’s re-election prospects, is going to be more anti-immigrant and xenophobic rhetoric. These are the social consequences of living in a recession, governed by politicians in the pockets of banks.

Occupy Wall Street has a simple message: reduce the power of finance capital over the United States government. Absent such a reduction, there is no rational social policy available for the United States. Neither the Obama government nor whoever wins the next election will be able to move an agenda to benefit an economy in the doldrums. It is to the credit of several unions (including the Transport Workers’ Union and AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka) that they have endorsed Occupy Wall Street. It is likely that on Wednesday, October 5, tens of thousands of workers might join the march from Liberty Square to Wall Street. What would be equally valuable is if the unions declared from Liberty Square that their support in the election of 2012 is conditional on specific policies to constrain the power of the banks. It would be equally valuable if the unions extend their endorsement of the Occupy Wall Street to the call for a primary challenge to President Obama. As our letter that calls for the primary challenge put it,

“In an uncontested Democratic primary, President Obama will never have to justify his decision to bail out Wall Street’s most profitable firms while failing to push for effective prosecution of the criminal behavior that triggered the recession, or his failure to push for real financial reform. He will not have to defend his decision to extend the Bush era tax cuts nor justify his acquiescence to Republican extortion during the debt ceiling negotiations. He will not have to answer questions on how his Administration completely failed to protect homeowner’s losing their homes to predatory banks, or even mention the word ‘poverty,’ as he failed to do in his most recent State of the Union Address, even as more and more Americas sink into financial despair.”

A toothed challenge to the status quo would bring the unions to endorse this call. With the Republicans unable tosettle on a candidate who has any room for reason, it is imperative that the election-cycle not go by without a serious challenge to finance capital’s chosen instrument, the Obama team.

It proves the Occupy Wall Street movement right that the New York Police Department has now arrested over one thousand of their number, far more than the government has arrested from the suites of the banks. The 99% pay the social cost, as the 1% condescends to reality.

VIJAY PRASHAD is the George and Martha Kellner Chair of South Asian History and Director of International Studies at Trinity College, Hartford, CT His most recent book, The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World, won the Muzaffar Ahmad Book Prize for 2009. The Swedish and French editions are just out. He can be reached at: vijay.prashad@trincoll.edu