Occupy Wall Street Rolls Across The U.S.

Almost a thousand people marched through the San Francisco financial district on Wednesday, in solidarity with 2,000 or more in Manhattan. New York police have arrested at least 700 since the movement began on September 17, with many of those arrests occurring over the weekend, an action that is being challenged in court.

Media reports mention, usually in passing, other protests around the country, but I don’t think they give the movement justice.

There are at least 154 groups1 organizing protests in a decentralized manner. Some of these marches have come and gone. Some are in the works and may never pan out.

View Occupy Together: A National Movement in a full screen map

The San Francisco Chronicle:

Occupy Wall Street began as a protest against what demonstrators describe as economic inequality and corporate greed. [...]

“The time will come when the 99 percent of the population realizes that they can actually do something about the 1 percent that controls it all.”

And NPR:

[S]everal key Democrats have endorsed the group, including former Sen. Russ Feingold and Rep. John Larson, who called it a sign of a coming “American autumn” — a reference to the Arab Spring protests that have reshaped parts of the Middle East.

And like their Arab counterparts, the key members of Occupy Wall Street seem to be young people frustrated by a lack of opportunity, and angered by the disparity between a suffering middle class and the wealthiest citizens — as personified, here in America, by Wall Street bankers.

A Touch of History

This is not the first time that bankers have been pitted against the rest of the population. I went searching for William Jennings Bryan’s Cross of Gold speech earlier tonight. (I wish I had a better grasp of U.S. history.) It was 1896 at the Democratic National Convention. There had been a depression in 1893 “marked by the collapse of railroad overbuilding and shaky railroad financing which set off a series of bank failures.” (That’s a familiar refrain, isn’t it?) Bryan got the nomination at age 36, at that time the youngest candidate to be nominated for the presidency.

Here are relevant excerpts from Bryan’s speech:

The man who is employed for wages is as much a business man as his employer; the attorney in a country town is as much a business man as the corporation counsel in a great metropolis; the merchant at the crossroads store is as much a business man as the merchant of New York; the farmer who goes forth in the morning and toils all day, who begins in spring and toils all summer, and who by the application of brain and muscle to the natural resources of the country creates wealth, is as much a business man as the man who goes upon the Board of Trade and bets upon the price of grain; the miners who go down a thousand feet into the earth, or climb two thousand feet upon the cliffs, and bring forth from their hiding places the precious metals to be poured into the channels of trade are as much businessmen as the few financial magnates who, in a back room, corner the money of the world.

[...]

Mr. Carlisle said in 1878 that this was a struggle between “the idle holders of idle capital” and “the struggling masses, who produce the wealth and pay the taxes of the country”; and, my friends, the question we are to decide is: Upon which side will the Democratic party fight; upon the side of “the idle holders of idle capital” or upon the side of “the struggling masses?” That is the question which the party must answer first, and then it must be answered by each individual hereafter.

[...]

There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that, if you will only legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea, however, has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous, their prosperity will find its way up through every class which rests upon them.

Sounds awfully contemporary, doesn’t it?

And The Now

The bubble that was the Gilded Age — the major economic expansion of the late 19th century that was fueled by the railroad and telegraph — ended with a depression. It was followed by the Progressive era in politics, social and political reform that included the income tax, muckrakers like Upton Sinclair, women’s suffrage (19th Amendment) and direct election of U.S. Senators as well as that destained-to-fail experiment, Prohibition.

The bubble that was the dot-com era and then the housing mess — a major economic expansion the late 20th century that was fueled by computer and internet technology — ended with a drawn out recession that was bookended by the collapse of the housing bubble in the early 21st century. Perhaps it was the bank bailout that prevented the collapse from triggering a depression.

And what has the political response been? Austerity, which The Economist has dubbed part of an economic black hole. From this week’s cover:

Until politicians actually do something about the world economy … be afraid.

The editors look at Europe but also cast their eyes west:

America is currently on course for the most stringent fiscal tightening of any big economy in 2012, as temporary tax cuts and unemployment insurance expire at the end of this year. That could change if Congress came to its senses, passed Barack Obama’s jobs plan and agreed on a medium-term deficit-reduction deal by November. If Democrats and Republicans fail to hash out a compromise on the deficit, draconian spending cuts will follow in 2013. For all the tirades against the Europeans, America’s economy risks being pushed into recession by its own fiscal policy—and by the fact that both parties are more interested in positioning themselves for the 2012 elections than in reaching the compromises needed to steer away from that hazardous course.

Now, as in Bryan’s age, Republicans are focused on a “tight” monetary policy.

It is in this environment that frustrated citizens are beginning to take to the streets. Will this show of discontent be more successful than the hundreds of thousands Americans and millions of foreign supporters who protested the U.S. invasion of Iraq? And, what changes, exactly, do we need to make? (This is not a dig at the protesters; it is a cry for leadership.)

1 : I created the BatchGeo map on October 4 using data from occupytogether.org.

21 Comments

  1. 1896
    -[There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that, if you will only legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea, however, has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous, their prosperity will find its way up through every class which rests upon them.]-

    …and that Ms. Gill, is exactly why I am a Democrat. Because Republicans have traditionally and historically tried to enslave the masses to serve the pathological greed of the Andrew Carnegies, Carl Icahns, Rupert Murdochs, and the Michael Milkens while Democrats have traditionally and historically tried to free them from it. There is but one black mark upon the Democrat Party, that being the Civil War. A deed that launched the Republican Party into existence in the first place. Never has their been a more regrettable American circumstance, but having learned that hard lesson, it is the Democrats that stand between the massive egos of the “self” made and the common makers of them. Perfect does not exist, but there does exist two distinct ideologies to choose from. It’s an easy choice for me.

  2. Great post Kathy. The William Jennings Bryan excerpt is especially resonant. Human nature hasn’t changed, just the props. Sure we may be more clever than some great Americans who went a century and two centuries before us, but when it comes to well reasoned intellects and well reasoned hearts they win hands down. No contest. This stuff is timeless. More power to the protesters and I hope the movement continues to grow. It should. The great irony (one of many) is that hundreds of protesters are arrested while those who caused the problems they are protesting are wealthier and more disconnected from accountability than ever.

  3. Both bubbles were also fueled by loose monetary policy, with the 1980 run being longer and stronger than anything seen in history. After a period of universal leveraging, we get an extended period of deleveraging, which is what we’re in the middle of right now. Trying to push leveraging right now is the exact same idea as drinking booze to cure a hangover.

    Thankfully, the OWS movement isn’t pushing the same old Democratic themes. They’re asking to reinstate Glass-Steagall, investigation and conviction of Wall-Street actors, the closing of tax loopholes, reforming the SEC, the reversal of Citizen’s United, a separation of regulators from the regulated (the “revolving door”), and the elimination of corporate personhood.

    Note the absence of simple calls for increases in regulation, taxes, and government spending that we always hear droning from the progressive establishment.

    This movement has more in common with the Tea Party than the Democrats.

  4. My headline would’ve been “Occupy Wall Street Defecates Across The U.S.”, but I’m silly that way.

  5. @Prof

    The leveraging you speaking of in the 80′s and this last decade also benefited from massive deregulation of the banking industry, allowing them to “Leverage” massive amounts of money into risky ventures, which were followed by an even more massive gov’t bailout at taxpayer expense. I’m all for them being able to leverage their money, that after all is the basis of making more money, but not into the realm of things that have traditionally led to economic collapses. We put certain barriers in place, things go well, then the banking industry decides to talk politicians into removing those barriers so they can make even more money, knowing that the taxpayers will cover them in the end because they have become too big to fail.

    And yes I agree the movement we are seeing does have specific and sensible goals, which is different from the usual braying of the usually directionless left protestors. However, re-instating Glass-Stegal’s barriers between commercial and investment banks does indeed constitute an increase in regulation, a needed one, and closing corporate loopholes will absolutely be seen as a “tax increase” on the “job creators”, you can um … bank on that. And its not just the left calling for it now or even recently. Its been something in the hearts of liberals, moderates, progressives, and RINO’s for years now. I am amazed its taking to the streets. I’m starting to feel a level of pride I haven’t felt in my countrymen in many years.

  6. @Prof – I do not think the housing bubble was loose monetary policy, ie, Fed-initiated.

    It’s quite clear that it was the loss of Glass-Stagal combined with the incredibly unrealistic leveraging of sh*t disguised as gold (CDOs) coupled with bank-driven (not Fed-driven) ridiculous lending policies … all based on the assumption that the only place the housing market could go was up. It’s like none of them (the people making the decisions, you know, the guys at the top) lived through the 80s.

    If you look at interest rates + inflation, the Fed can’t get any looser. The belt-tightening is coming from Republican demands for austerity. Read The Economist – not just the op-ed but the accompanying analysis. We ain’t outta the woods.

  7. @Allen, @JSpencer — thanks. Funny, I learned about that speech when I was in high school, but it was “out of school” — debate and extemporaneous speaking, IIRC.

    @Slamfu — but how do we get *Washington* to talk about Glass-Stegal. They ducked it when they “re-regulated” the banking sector after the bailouts. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/.....emise.html

  8. @Kathy – I do not think the housing bubble was loose monetary policy, ie, Fed-initiated.

    It’s not a simple relationship, but low interest rates obviously are going to encourage borrowing — that’s the whole point of pushing them low. Of course, there’s a lot more to making the crisis after that, such Fannie and Freddie taking on the bulk of their risk, the rating agency capitulation, and SEC corruption. Although the Fed doesn’t control the banks directly, they are heavily intertwined.

    According to ECRI, who have accurately predicted the last 3 recessions, we’re starting into one now.

    I agree that tight monetary policy would be disastrous, but then, exactly what policy won’t be? The damage is done, I can’t see any way to fix it, and certainly don’t see any action toward fixing the core problems. What’s the point of the delaying the inevitable?

  9. @Slamfu
    Glass-Steagall was a set of hard rules, which translates into fewer rules, which are harder to ignore. It seems to me that’s less regulation. The current crop of “regulations” is little more than general powers granted to unaccountable agencies.

  10. This isn’t just a national movement. It’s quickly gone global,with 746 cities listed on the Occupy Together webpage: http://www.occupytogether.org/

    And while some of the demands, to date, are simplistic, others are sophisticated, as is the voting process offered to anyone who wants to take the time to read the demands and participate by voting for demands, or offering suggestions or additions: http://coupmedia.org/occupywal.....mands-2009

    And yes, there are lots of demands. The agenda that’s been pushed by global corporations and the wealthy has impacted elections and voters’ rights, unions and working conditions, environmental regulation, health care, care for the poor, the defense industry, taxation, financial regulation, and more, so there’s no way one or two simple demands can even begin to turn back the tide toward a more equitable system.

    One last website to note: http://wearethe99percent.tumblr.com/ It offers photos and stories of those who support Occupy Wall Street.

  11. Wall Street continues to oppose the 97% factor, even though we bailed the financial industry out of the mess they put us in. That’s how it should read! lost of faith in public institutions; hogwash! Democracy has failed to protect us The Masses, as it always will, because there is no mechanism to provide the inevitable rise to power of the devious, the wealthy, the monopolist­ic, the strong, the selfish, the bigots, the self righteous, the Hippocrate­s, the takers the 3%. There is no protection for those who just want to go along, get along, be alone, just to live life. Its not okay in America to just be left to enjoy life, just living is not okay. you don’t deserve any share never the less a fair share, your not equal in America, unless you sell your soul to establishm­ent; if you choose not to waste your life; striving, working to make some-one else rich, away from your family, your beliefs, your values, your passions.Your actual life’s value on this planet is diminished. This is whats taken from you. Your right to live as free men and women to create art and beauty. To choose to be less not more. They are right. there is no fair share! there is no social safety net. so you can pursue beauty for beauty’s sake, be a poet, an artist, a street entertaine­r, philosophe­r, teacher, nurse. You must be a driven, a cog in the wheel of production­; soulless fool, you must enslave yourself to economic domination to the corporate oligarchy and thats what we built a nation of consumers the ultimate Capitalist goal, one class of makers and takers and and another class of users and used up. It’s the matrix for real; and we are the pods! Our political apathy our pathetic social structure nurtured by pulsating advertisin­g, vivid movies and pathetic reality TV have created a self contained environmen­t separate from the real earthly world which only a few of us get to enjoy. What do I want, I want us to be the one! Tear it down rebuild a new future. Resist, Rebel, Revolution­, Rebuild. the 4 R’s of reading and righting. fah451bks ? Emilio

  12. Prof-

    Loose unregulated Business Practices is far more damaging than a loose monetary policy. Monetary policy changes and is purposely manipulated by the Fed to keep the economy on track. There is an appropriate time for loose monetary policy.

    Unfortunately the fed has to obey Republican laws that ORDER it to do their bidding. Since the Republican Party is hell bent on making the elected government as weak as possible, and thus more dependant upon big business power and money, the fed is a natural and common target of choice as a tool to that end. They never hesitate to use it during their time in power and THIS time the damage is possibly un-repairable.

  13. @Allen
    ???What? What laws could you possibly be talking about? The Fed is a PRIVATE central bank, owned by banks (although stockholder votes are counted a little differently). The president gets to choose the chairman, but that’s the most influence he has.

    And yes, loose monetary policy is much like debt itself: it boosts the short term at the expense of the long term.

  14. “This movement has more in common with the Tea Party than the Democrats.”

    Prof, it that’s really true then why isn’t the tea party kicking in with some solidarity???

  15. Btw, I completely agree with F451, who is right smack on the mark.

  16. @JSpencer
    “Prof, it that’s really true then why isn’t the tea party kicking in with some solidarity???”
    People are still trying to figure out what the OWS movement really wants. There’s a reasonable list linked to from a previous poster, another list that “demands” things like 2 trillion in infrastructure, and others that don’t seem to know what they want.

    The Tea Party is a lot more consistently conservative, although the social issues still vary by area, and even by group. It’s really more consistent than the OWS movement at this time.

    Right now, people seem to see what they want to see in the OWS movement, but I’m still waiting for more clues.

  17. A little late, so I give my proxy to the Prof., who has the more accurate take on this particular thread.

  18. Occupy Wall Street, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington D.C. Despite gaining traction across the country the Cowards in the democratic congress cannot decide on which side of the issues they are on! There are no progressive leaders in congress, that’s a farce. The progressives are in the streets. To call an elected official progressive these days is a sheer smack down and insult. To those that were and are truly on the left Protesters, dissenters, and the voices of the 60’s & 70’s the old guard of true leftism in America has all but retired. The Occupy Wall Street and other cities have been criticized for not having a clear short platform. Why because the list of issues, problems and injustices is just to long to narrow down to fit in the small minds of our currently elected officials. See they are use to long drawn out simple decisions just a nudge further down the path than the politician whose seat they followed. This is the nature of our democratic system not to rock the boat just ride out the waves and all the issues will die with time as the weather changes. As they say though the “Weathermen” know which way the wind blows! This is how we got here. We just kept letting the right nibble at our values and ideals until slowly the left god old, complacent, apathetic and couch ridden and the right wing just kept on nibbling and here we are they ate our lunch 4 wars, vast dispiritedly in wealth and justice, corporations deregulated free to commit frauds and crimes and now there nibbling at our core they have hit the nerve! A woman’s Choice, Labor & workers rights, religious conservatism, a wealth oligarchy, corporate domination, social injustice, and political tyranny! I ask you to support the people in the streets, feed them, shelter them, and join them when you can. No short list of demands, no compromise, this is your voice in congress now 99% to 1% we can win this at the ballot box. More feet to the street! The larger the crowds! The larger the number of cities! The longer the list of demands! The stronger the negotiating position. No compromise! Seize the streets, move towards a national strike! ? Fah451bks

  19. Prof-

    I am seeking the “elimination of corporate personhood”.

    An absolute treason IMO!

  20. Prof my terminology is probably incorrect.

    I’m talking about the normal business cycle and the Fed’s part in it. However you and I know that politics influence the Fed. Look at what that idiot Greenspan did!

  21. @Allen:”Look at what that idiot Greenspan did!”

    Greenspan looks like a saint compared to Bernanke. Maybe noting that Bernanke was also the Bush appointee will help you think that one through a little clearer.

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