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Time to Start Preoccupying Wall Street
Posted on Dec 9, 2011
Phrased differently, if the greatest single contribution of the Occupy Wall Street movement to the progressive cause was the way it quickened a vital sense of narrative drive that had gone all but moribund over the past 30 years (through such captivating innovations as the 99 percent meme), that sense of vitality had more recently begun noticeably to flag once again, and it is now imperative that the movement instead shift the narrative up another several notches.
In doing so, the movement ought to build on another of Occupy Wall Street’s greatest conceptual breakthroughs: the insight that it’s become pointless to address our concerns to the politicians—a political system virtually paralyzed, evenly divided between bullies and weenies, with a president for all intents and purposes veritably palsied with compunction and misgiving (who knows why and who cares anymore?). You don’t occupy Capitol Hill; you occupy Wall Street. And the formula needs to continue to be: time to stop addressing our concerns to the hired help; from now on, we deal directly with the masters.
So, where are we today?
Square, Site wide
While the big corporations sit on piles of cash, small businesses are failing to thrive because people are not spending; and people are not spending because they either have already lost their jobs or live in justifiable fear that they may yet soon. Fully a quarter of current mortgage holders are underwater, meaning they owe more to the banks than their houses are worth, with foreclosure only a family-financial-hiccup away. The possibility of moving anywhere else (where there might be a job) is likewise foreclosed to them if they don’t want to lose everything they’ve put into their houses, since housing markets generally have seized up as a result of the crisis.
Meanwhile, recent college grads groan under the weight of unprecedented amounts of debt—loans of the sort students in most other countries were never required to take on to fund what most everyplace else is seen as a self-evident public good: an educated populace, which after all is to everyone’s advantage. These loans were taken out under the assurance that the resultant degrees would open out onto careers that would allow the loans to be repaid—jobs that no longer exist.
With the general exception of the notorious 1 percent (who’ve been making out like bandits all through this period, just as they did throughout the previous three decades), the vast majority of Americans have pulled back on their spending, hence businesses lay off more workers. Then tax revenues decline and local governments in turn lay off more teachers, police and firefighters, who therefore no longer spend, and so forth.
And what does government seem capable of doing in the face of all this? Not much. If anything the wheels of governance seem more bollixed and mired than those of the economy at large. One party is being held hostage by a tea party pretty much entirely untethered from any understanding of its own actual economic interests, a faux populist insurgency lashed into existence by one group of billionaires (the Koch brothers and their ilk) and prodded along via the Pavlovian ravings of opinion-shapers employed by another (Murdoch and his), the rage of its members cleverly channeled onto the governments and civil servants that have (granted) proved so hapless in trying to deal with the crisis rather than onto the financial behemoths that brought the crisis on. The other party, alas, ever since the days when the Clinton-Rubin regime engineered its grand surrender (for purposes of all that excellent fundraising), has been captive to that same finance industry, a sinister embrace that its new leader, President Obama, for whatever the reason (personal psychological issues, heartfelt political conviction, meritocratic identification, Stockholm syndrome, despairing realpolitik sense of what can any longer be achieved—who knows and who anymore cares?) has proven singularly incapable of sundering.
Bailouts—at full value, dollar for dollar—get lavished upon the banks and finance industry whose recklessness got us into the mess, without the slightest requirement that those institutions turn around and help the economy at large. While everyone else suffers, the executives take unconscionable bonuses, and meanwhile sluice good portions of the rest of their bailout funds into paying lobbyists and their designated candidates to gut even the mildest of regulations intended to forestall any further such criminal recklessness in the future. Is there any wonder that people are furious, alienated and thrashing about for a response with any hope of opening up a horizon?
It is against that backdrop that I offer the following proposal. I should say first of all that I am by no means the first to be thinking along these lines (other such proposals have been bubbling up all over); nor is this sort of proposal the only one that need be pursued. It would constitute one activist foray among many. But it does seem to me the sort of direct action that the recently evicted Occupiers and their sympathizers around the country ought now to be considering.
It grows out of the marvelously suggestive insight embodied in that classic old Yiddish story, the one in which, as you remember:
Schlomo is up again all night, tossing and turning, and by 3 in the morning Rivka, his long-suffering and increasingly exasperated wife, has had it. “Enough already with the tossing and turning, Schlomo!” she exclaims. “What’s keeping you up like this night after night, and me too while we are at it?” “It’s Moishe across the lane,” explains Schlomo, veritably trembling. “I owe him 10 rubles, due tomorrow, and I don’t have it.” To which Rivka, climbing out of bed and heading over to the window, retorts, “Is that all? Geesh, no problem.” She opens the shutter, leans out and yells, “Moishe!” A few moments pass till Moishe across the way angrily flings his window open: “For God’s sake, Rivka, what could you possibly want at this hour?” “It’s Schlomo,” she explains. “He owes you 10 rubles in the morning and he doesn’t have it!” Whereupon she latches her shutter back up and returns to bed. “There,” she tells her husband, “now you go to sleep and let Moishe stay up all night worrying.”
What would it be like if activists were to spend the next several months developing, articulating and organizing toward a major national mortgage and student loan strike? Such a loan strike would be slated to begin—provided enough people signed on in advance (and I’m talking hundreds of thousands, millions), and unless a concrete set of intervening demands was squarely met in the meantime—on some specific preannounced date in the intermediate future. Why not, say, on Oct. 1, 2012, right in the middle of the next presidential campaign?
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