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What is Occupy Wall Street About?

If you read letters to the editor in the newspapers and comments from professional journalists in the op-ed pages you’ve no doubt noticed that people are frustrated that the Occupy Wall Street movement doesn’t have official goals.  Some people accuse Occupiers of being spoiled kids with lots of gripes but no positive suggestions for making life better for “the ninety nine percent.”

Occupy defenders point out that the movement is still very young, and needs time to articulate policy and select leaders.  But such a response might lead the ill-informed to declare that OWS has made no significant progress in defining what it’s about.  This is not so.  I paraphrase a recent paragraph from the website of Occupy Delaware:

We are a movement of concerned Delaware citizens who have come to together to air and address their shared grievances about some of the economic and political realities ordinary folks are facing. Occupy Delaware is a diverse group of individuals and includes members from all walks of life, ages, income brackets and political views, but there are common concerns which unify us, including:

1. Corporations have an inequitable influence over the political process.
2. The wealthiest Americans do not pay their fair share of taxes, so that the tax burden is unfairly distributed.
3. Politicians are more concerned with getting and holding power than with leading the country to solve problems which we all face.
4. Our country is in dire need of tax reform, and regulation of the banks and investment markets.
5. The huge number of unemployed and underemployed is unacceptable.

6.  We want economic justice.  Taxpayers bailed out big banks.  They owe us in return!  Instead of hoarding profits, they should begin lending again.   And predatory lenders have not been punished for their crimes, nor have strong regulations been put in place to prevent such behavior in the future.
6. There is a healthcare crisis in our country that still has not been addressed.

There are at least two levels to the question, “What is the Occupy Wall Street Movement About?”  At the primary level, most people want to know what Occupy Wall Street stands for:  What are its specific goals?  Does it have a list of demands that might eventually comprise a political platform"?  The movement is decentralized and consequently does not yet have such a list, and probably will not have one until a constitutional convention is convened in July of 2012.  Puzzled citizens and peevish pundants may have to wait a few more months to get the answers they want at this primary level.

Norris and LeomBut there is a second level to the question:  What is the Occupy Wall Street movement about?  This level concerns its zeitgeist.  It seems to me that Occupy Wall Street is in many ways about the same things that uprisings of “the Arab Spring” are about:  namely, the frustration of huge numbers of young people who have been well educated, but whose future looks bleak if not downright foreboding.  OWS, like the spontaneous peaceful revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt erupted out of the desperation not just of the poor and working poor, but also of middle class youth dejected by the slim prospects for good-paying jobs, and resentful about the obscenely widening gap between the super rich and the remaining ninety-nine percent.  OWS is not, of course, just a youth movement.  One finds older people in the ranks too, for everyone has suffered from the greed of investment bankers, and sicophant politicians beholden to large corporate donors.  However, by their sheer numbers, their youthful energy and passion, and their unflinching idealism, young people are the engine of this movement.  It seems reasonable that when leaders do emerge, they should come from the youthful majority, for the young have many more years to reap the consequences of succeeding, or not.

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