Roy Green: For Occupy Wall Street 2012, a Future or an Obituary?


There is no question that the world is an increasingly fractious and dangerous place.  All eyes are currently focused on Iran, its braggadocio concerning the quickly developing nuclear program and the question of how close Tehran may be to developing a nuclear weapon with which it would immediately threaten Israel.  In turn, Tel Aviv has been very clear that a nuclear-weaponized Iran would not be tolerated; clearly signalling an Israeli military strike may be imminent.
As if that possibility – some would say probability isn’t sufficiently alarming – the populous uprising against the Assad regime in Syria has ramifications which extend at the very least throughout the region.  Most disturbingly, though, the international community is witnessing a horrific assault on the Syrian people by the dictatorial government in Damascus.  Thousands of lives have already been lost.

Against those as well as other backdrops of concern a lingering question remains whether another long, hot summer of Occupy Wall Street protest and various incarnations of international street violence lies ahead?

Another summer of demands for redistribution of wealth?  Another summer of calls for double digit tax increases for the so-called 1 per cent?  The 1 per cent said to control 99 per cent of the wealth?

Not according to those who argue the back of the Occupy Wall Street movement has been broken and that only stragglers remain.  Bill Maher, darling of the left, ridiculed OWS supporters recently, urging they “get a job” and derisively suggesting that when you hang around parks at night you will inevitably attract people who spend every night in the park. 

It may be prudent to caution against so quickly and definitively posting the Occupy Wall Street obituary.  Not that the movement as constructed merits wide spread support, but rather because for many, if not most who attended Occupy events across North America and beyond, the experience was one they assessed as empowering.

The “capitalism bad” philosophy retains a significant number of drum bangers. Couple that with the fact G8 and NATO conferences are scheduled for Chicago in mid-May and the table may be set for a potential mob scene in that city. 

The call went out for an international Occupy style protest in Chicago months ago.  An appeal considered sufficiently concerning to Mayor Rahm Emanuel that he introduced and was able to pass ordinances restricting hours of permissible protest in city parks and other public venues, as well as increasing fines and consequences, should protesters confront and challenge police unlawfully.

Emanuel’s former boss, U.S. President Barack Obama, who prior to winning the White House was the junior Senator from Illinois, is already viewed by OWS protesters as lending moral support to their fundamental demand for increased taxation on the wealthy.  As the presidential and Congressional election campaign winds its way toward the November vote, Mr. Obama will more than likely increase the rhetorical volume of his own version of that argument as delivered in his most recent State of the Union Address, hoping to deflect inevitable Republican Party attacks on the President’s overall economic record.
Occupy Wall Street style encampments haven’t been limited to North America.  Europe experienced similar gatherings and as the continent continues to face significant fiscal challenge, 2012 may prove no different.

While OWS in North America was generally non-violent, destructive reaction to national austerity programs was a regular occurrence in Greece and experienced little in the way of a winter hiatus.

An April general election in France may prove sufficiently polarizing that reasonably orderly opposition to political choices could morph into something more akin to an Athens scenario.

Incumbent president Nicolas Sarkozy is attempting to hold off Socialist Francois Hollande as his primary challenger, while maintaining a wary watch for any increase in popular support for far-right National Front party leader Marine Le Pen.  An online poll for the Le Parisien newspaper in March of last year had Le Pen leading both Sarkozy and then Socialist leader Martine Aubry.

While Le Pen currently trails both Sarkozy and Hollande in public polling, she nevertheless hopes to sell her anti-Euro and protectionist policies to younger voters whom she additionally is trying to entice by promising French citizens priority over newcomers for jobs. Hollande for his part maintains his view of the world is akin to that of Barack Obama. 

Does the French general election then, with its drawn-out format featuring an initial vote for president on April 22, and if necessary a runoff on May 6, followed by lower house elections in June, create opportunity for uncertainty and unrest?  Would a defeat of Sarkozy and a runoff presidential vote for either Hollande or Le Pen, as improbable as that may now appear, lead to destructive urban protests? 

It should be remembered National Front electoral success is not without precedent.  Le Pen’s father, Jean Marie, surprised national pollsters in 2002, when he finished second to Jacques Chirac in the first round of voting for president and caused a subsequent runoff vote during which Le Pen was resoundingly defeated. 

The question here though isn’t about who will win the French election necessarily, but rather whether a possible runoff between the Socialist Hollande and the far-Right National Front’s Le Pen may set the scene for urban violence.   

Observers have already reminded that seething anger among young unemployed children of immigrants to France saw them take to the streets in a 2005 rampage of looting, arson and assault and have compared that to last year’s vicious rioting in London and other British population centres.

Returning the focus to the United States, there certainly exists reason for public anger and disgust over what is widely perceived to have been criminal manipulation of enormous amounts of money, leading to economic chaos.  Manipulation and the issuance of what former federal white collar crime investigator Bill Black terms “liar loans” which virtually sank the U.S. housing market and threatened the American and other national economies.

Black, who was engaged with a U.S. federal agency investigating criminal activity in the so-called Savings and Loans scandal of the 1980s, informs that investigation involved more than 1,000 FBI agents and resulted in the eventual imprisonment of a similar number of white collar criminals.  Today, Black speaks of less than 200 FBI agents reviewing who did what to specifically create the economic chaos which began in 2008 and which he describes as seventy times greater than the Savings and Loans mess. 

The demand for accountability, action and criminal investigation, a significant component of the Occupy Wall Street protest, should, were OWS to re-emerge this summer, be shifted from a Wall Street focus and directed more toward the United States Congress and the White House.  Parking a protest outside investment banks to the exclusion of the halls of political power ignores the role politicians played and continue to play in creating an advantageous and deregulated playing field for their most generous political financial backers.

Bill Maher’s derisive verbal shot across the bows of the Occupy Wall Street movement won’t impact plans for any attempt to commandeer public space and challenge the G8 and NATO conferences in Chicago in May.  However, when someone like Maher says of OWS participants:

“As I watch them on the news now, I find myself almost agreeing with Newt Gingrich.  Like, you know what, get a job.  Only because, you know, the people who originally started, I think they went home and now it’s just these anarchist stragglers.”  Maher may well be voicing the view of a growing majority of Americans; including Americans who last year in significant numbers expressed at least some level of philosophical support for Occupy Wall Street’s objectives.

Maher concluded his assessment by describing remaining Occupy Wall Street participants as a “bunch of dou—bags who think throwing a chair through the Starbucks’ window will bring on the revolution,” a far cry from TIME magazine’s decision to name The Protester it’s Person of the Year for 2011.

Given international tensions the Occupy protester may indeed have a future in 2012, but only if his and her focus is where it belongs.  At the doors of self-indulgent, party first, nation second politicians and their ethics challenged financial backers.  The enemy is not, as OWS would have us believe, capitalism.  The enemy is those who manipulated and distorted capitalism to satisfy their own avarice.  
Roy Green is a contributor to the National Post and the host of the Roy Green Show, a national program weekends on the Corus radio network.