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Posted on Nov 20, 2011
bogieharmond (CC-BY)

Protesters march to disrupt the New York Stock Exchange.

By Eugene Robinson

NEW YORK—Occupy Wall Street may not occupy Zuccotti Park anymore, but it refuses to surrender its place in the national discourse. Up close, you get the sense that the movement may have only just begun.

Demonstrators staged a “day of action” Thursday, following the eviction of their two-month-old encampment earlier this week. The idea was, well, to occupy Wall Street in a literal sense—to shut down the financial district, at least during the morning rush hour.

For the most part, it didn’t work. Entrances to some subway stations were blocked for a while and traffic was more of a mess than usual. But police turned out in force, erecting barricades that kept protesters from getting anywhere near their main target, the New York Stock Exchange. Captains of commerce may have been hassled and inconvenienced, but they weren’t thwarted.

There was some pushing and shoving, resulting in a few dozen arrests. Coordinated “day of action” protests were also held in other cities. They did not change the world.

A big failure? No, quite the opposite.

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Lower Manhattan was swarming not just with demonstrators and police but with journalists from around the world—and with tourists who wanted to see what all the fuss was about. A small, nonviolent protest had been amplified into something much bigger and more compelling, not by the strength of its numbers but by the power of its central idea.

There is a central idea, by the way: that our financial system has been warped to serve the interests of a privileged few at the expense of everyone else.

Is this true? I believe the evidence suggests that it is. Others might disagree. The important thing is that because of the activism of the Occupy Wall Street protests—however naive, however all-over-the-map—issues of unfairness and inequality are being discussed.

This is a conversation we haven’t been having for the past 30 years. For politicians—and those who pay lavishly to fund their campaigns—the discussion is destabilizing because it does not respect traditional alignments. For example, white working-class voters are supposed to be riled up against Democrats for policies such as affirmative action and gun control. They’re not supposed to get angry with Republicans for voting to bail out the banks and then flatly ruling out the idea of relief for underwater borrowers.

How people feel about fairness—the 1 percent at the top versus the other 99 percent—has nothing to do with how they feel about limiting abortion or banning assault weapons. It has nothing to do with whether people think racism is a thing of the past or a continuing scourge. Fairness can’t be dismissed as some sort of first step toward socialism, unless we’re willing to concede that capitalism and fairness are fundamentally incompatible. I don’t believe this is the case. Maybe some of the Occupy protests’ most vocal opponents would like to disagree.

In midtown, many blocks from Zuccotti Park, famously jaded New Yorkers were eager to talk about Occupy Wall Street. Buttonholing people at random, I found a lot of support for Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision to clear the park of tents, sleeping bags and other appurtenances of a permanent settlement. But I also found a lot of agreement with the protesters—even if not everyone had the same idea about just what the protesters were saying.

“Yeah, they were talking a lot of crazy stuff, some of them,” said Ramon Henriquez, owner of a limousine company, who was idling on Central Park South behind the wheel of one of his cars. “Some of them, when they’d do that crazy human microphone thing, they would talk about socialism. I didn’t like that at all. But I liked what they said about the banks.”

He remembered one Occupy speaker asking what would happen if every homeowner decided to skip a month on the mortgage, instead putting the money in escrow—just to get the banks’ attention. “You saw what happened with the debit-card fee,” he said, referring to Bank of America’s abandoned attempt to squeeze new revenue out of account holders. “They listened because they had to listen.”

The erstwhile occupiers of Zuccotti Park swear that they aren’t going anywhere—that they’ll get back into the park one way or another. But they’ve done something more important: They’ve gotten into people’s heads.


Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)washpost.com.
   
© 2011, Washington Post Writers Group


New and Improved Comments

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By Mekhong Kurt, November 22, 2011 at 12:20 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

GradyLeeHoward, you’ve thoroughly befuddled me with your comment, “Eugene Robinson, you are trivializing the
educational and informational dimension of Occupy.
Discourse all across the country has been shifted
and citizens now see possibilities they never
considered before.”

Yet Mr. Robinson’s final paragraph reads, “The erstwhile occupiers of Zuccotti Park swear that they aren’t going anywhere—that they’ll get back into the park one way or another. But they’ve done something more important: They’ve gotten into people’s heads.” *His* closing sentence—“But they’ve done something more important: They’ve gotten into people’s heads”—says exactly the same thing as your statement that “Discourse all across the country has been shifted and citizens now see possibilities they never considered before,” but in different words.

Why are you so critical of him? I agree with BOTH of you.

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By ejreed, November 21, 2011 at 2:27 pm Link to this comment

the economics of the story

The Numbers Behind the 99% 
If then protesters with the “Occupy” movement are with
the so-called “99 percent,” who exactly are the “1
percent,” and how did they get there?
http://www.newslook.com/videos/372874-the-numbers-
behind-the-99?autoplay=true

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By joelwedd, November 21, 2011 at 8:00 am Link to this comment

Everyone says Occupt or 99% is a positive message isn’t getting it. We are way past the place of positive messaging. We need results. We nee changes that can be measured. We are wasting time and the country is declining on our watch. Rallying and camping out is not meaningful. Taking them down and impeaching the bejeezus out of them, Occupy Exxon and shaking the fence around Koch Brothers Mansion compound…thats a start. Who’s got the guts? We’re afraid to do anything that will cause real change.

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By Joseph Couture, November 21, 2011 at 7:30 am Link to this comment

If you were wondering why the poor often don’t show up in great numbers to support the Occupy groups, here is your answer.  A homeless man explains the reality of life on the street.  You don’t want to hear this.

http://www.josephcouture.com  “Preoccupied In Hell”

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EmileZ's avatar

By EmileZ, November 21, 2011 at 6:04 am Link to this comment

@ Not One More!

RE: “Some of them, when they’d do that crazy human microphone thing, they would talk about socialism. I didn’t like that at all. But I liked what they said about the banks.”

Interesting that Mr. Robinson should choose an owner of a limousine company as his midtown Manhattan “everyman” to express such a colloquialism.

At times I wonder if he is making inside jokes with himself or something.

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By amongthepeople, November 21, 2011 at 3:50 am Link to this comment

Here’s a comment reposted from Truthdig’s Occupy Wall
Street Dig:

If you’re a STUDENT JOURNALIST and you’re into #OWS,
you should go to Top40-Charts.com and click the youth
power ad banner for the sake of unity.

Be prepared to think in terms of the 100% and not just
the 99% because the youth power movement is practical
and determined to succeed fast where divisive movements
struggle indefinitely.

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By karenmillen, November 21, 2011 at 1:50 am Link to this comment

Just in time we have
alternatives to irrational austerity in behalf of
fraudsters.

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Not One More!'s avatar

By Not One More!, November 21, 2011 at 12:42 am Link to this comment

Quoting Hernandez in Robinson’s article:  “Some of them, when they’d do that crazy human microphone thing, they would talk about socialism. I didn’t like that at all. But I liked what they said about the banks.”

That is exactly the backhanded point of Mr. Robinson, the ultimate democratic party apologist, who includes this quote intentionally, implying that somehow the occupy wall street movement is tainted by it’s association with ‘socialism.’

You have to wonder about the people who fear the word ‘socialism’ but have no issues with the continuing war, the continuing wall street corruption, lack of universal health care, the destruction of the environment and the democratic party promoter role in that process.

By the way, had people considered Mr. Nader’s suggestions all along, we wouldn’t be in this mess we are in. He was writing about how all the financial and social safeguards were being torn down by both political parties.

And any person who doesn’t understand Occupy Wall Street’s message doesn’t want to understand it.

so it goes

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By gerard, November 20, 2011 at 9:58 pm Link to this comment

Quoting Hernandez in Robinson’s article:  “Some of them, when they’d do that crazy human microphone thing, they would talk about socialism. I didn’t like that at all. But I liked what they said about the banks.”
  The country as a whole doesn’t need any more reminders to think that “socialism” is something not to talk about or not to like. It’s nothing more nor less than an attempt to find a fairer way of managing business and government than capitalism—which has more than sufficiently proven its unfairness in recent years! 
  Nor is the country as a whole in no need of hearing that the “human microphone” is or was “crazy.”  What needs to be noticed is that it is an ingeneous invention to thwart the gagging of ordinary people when they are denied the use of microphones.  And why were Occupiers denied microphones? And who decided to deny them? (as well as toilets and generators, and finally the right to have personal possessions and a place to meet)?
  What about all this calculated denial? And what does it say about public access to the halls of power? Wouldn’t it just be smarter and cheaper to pay attention to public opinion before discontent gets to the point where tens of thousands of people have to get out in the streets and face armed police in order to get the ear of media and other agencies of centralized power?
  It is not insignificant that tens of thousands of citizens came to the support of the Occupiers even though they themselves did not camp out or march; and that they recognize the intelligence and the necessity and sincerity of the Occupiers. And that when the crunch came, the brutish police repressed the Occupiers, not because they particularly wanted to but because they were paid to. (Many of them, seen close-up on video, looked scared—not of protesters, but of themselves and of what they were doing.  Didn’t anyone notice that when their masks were lifted?) So far a lot has been revealed that ordinarily is masked or lurks in secret.

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By joelwedd, November 20, 2011 at 9:53 pm Link to this comment

The Occupy Movements After Two Months: Too Slow and Not Enough
It’s only been two months since Occupy Wall Street and Tax the Rich, and there is inertia. Solutions are sluggish and the opposition continues to dominate. People raging against the machine are not enough. The tools to dismantle it must be found. We need answers, but nobody is asking the right questions.
Q: “Tax the Rich” is a weak ask. Who is that stoops to accept figures like 1% or 5.6%?
A: Tax the Rich forty percent with no loopholes. Demand a number, any number, and don’t accept less.
Q: Why are we demonizing a faceless and nameless 1%? It’s undemocratic, and we are supposed to be restoring Democracy, not subverting it. This is no better than a witch hunt.
A: We single them out one by one, all of the people and corporations whether 1% or 99% who by action and attitude are the real destroyers of America. We use a fair process. Then we take them down.
Q: Why do we waste time occupying public parks, “standing up” empty handed and limp, with no tools to get the real job done?
A: We start with Occupy Exxon, rallies at Koch Bros Mansion, and fence shaking at PG&E. We create a think tank that will pound out plans and solutions and replace whining with winning.
Q: Why aren’t we impeaching every tyrant leader? (They’re recalling the governor of Wisconsin.)
A: Set-up drive through petition booths near the capital building of every state in the country. Identify and hit every tyrant leader starting with unjust Governors and working down to corrupt Mayors.
Q: Why do we bother getting signatures with clipboards at little gatherings and Safeway parking lots?
A: We go viral. We storm petitions across http://www.change.org and Facebook until the servers break down. We get millions of signatures in weeks, not months or years.
Q: Somebody in the 1% gives enough money to knock them down into the 99%. Who’s going to oversee where the money goes? Who’s going to ensure it goes for public programs and not to Afghanistan?
A: We create a public watch dog agency and maintain accountability for every dollar.
Q: 16% of the 1% are doctors. How about movie stars, rock stars, and sports heroes? Why do we adore them in their giant mansions, pay them the big bucks, and not hold them accountable?
A: We turn the fat healthcare industry on its side by holding all healthcare payments for 30 days. We boycott ticket booths and starve the sports and entertainment industries for 60 days.
Q: What can we do to stop the deaths of our neighbors from lack of affordable healthcare?
A: We petition charges for involuntary manslaughter against every politician who supports cuts to healthcare. They are acting to “unlawfully kill another human being unintentionally.”
Q: Why are these questions, and many more, not being asked and answered?
A: 1) we are scared 2) we are lazy 3) we are an undirected mob 4) The 99% is really only 9% and the other 90% don’t care. We need to find the answers or America is going down now.
If we can’t fix America, it’s because it’s too late to get back our power. It’s time for us to take this movement to a new level, and turn around our country. Now. This is not a long-term project.

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By balkas, November 20, 2011 at 6:48 pm Link to this comment

each person can define [explain] capitalism in
her/his own way and many in people in u.s—
includes most or all of the 1%—wld include in the
definition the notion that capitalism and fairness is
compatible and so does robinson.

but this ignores the fact that u.s capitalism [i define
it as all that happens in u.s on monetary-
educational-political-etc level] is founded on the
notion that an american has the right to own [and
even kill] another american.
and now question arises, is that compatible with
fairness?
we can assume that robinson and the one % [+
another 30% of americans] wld say yes; yes, it is fair
to own and even a wondering and lost american. tnx

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By GradyLeeHoward, November 20, 2011 at 5:26 pm Link to this comment

Eugene Robinson, you are trivializing the
educational and informational dimension of Occupy.
Discourse all across the country has been shifted
and citizens now see possibilities they never
considered before. Just in time we have
alternatives to irrational austerity in behalf of
fraudsters. More and more people are realizing that
our economic system is incompatible with fairness
and that we need to alter it accordingly. Maybe as
a “journalist” you cannot say this but it is
indisputably true. To change the impossibly unfair
business dominated culture many other things will
have to evolve right along with the solution.

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