The protest no one noticed

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Posted on: 20 September 2011 by Alexander Hay

A small but driven protest movement against corrupt banks and big business starts to take root in America. But does anyone care enough to even pay attention? Meanwhile, the young middle classes are starting to get restless

Little reported, yet significant, it seems - to quote one commentator - that some Americans are making a choice between capitalism and money:

...Protesters who vowed to “occupy Wall Street” are holding their ground in downtown New York, and say they have no plans to leave anytime soon.

The protest started Saturday with a “Day of Rage,” when thousands of people gathered in the Financial District and vowed to stay on Wall Street as long as it takes to make their point that they will “no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%.”

Organizers have said they hoped for as many as 20,000 people to join the protests, but estimates Saturday were that the crowd peaked at around 5,000...

The protesters have several disadvatanges. The screaming circus of hypocrisy and hate that is the Tea Party makes for much better political footage. Much of America seems shellshocked by the recession into a state of aquiesence. Cher's dancing transsexual son gets higher ratings. Yet the movement - using social networking and tricks learned from the Arab Spring - still represents a considerable shift. If the state has been the focus of protest so far, there is the possibility that the private sector may be about to get some backlash of its own, perhaps heralded by Warren Buffet's reasonable observation that maybe billionaires like him should pay more taxes:

...Organizers of the protest told ABC station WABC-TV in New York that they are hoping the crowd will grow as the work week begins Monday. Like the protests that inspired this one, the demonstration is being fueled by social media, with supporters using the Twitter hashtag #takewallstreet to organize meetings of the so-called “General Assembly” and to advertise the effort. The event is also streaming live online...

The catalyst also seems to be in the form of a generation of young people who did what they were told, went to university and ran up huge debts, only to discover they couldn't get jobs and were dry gulched by their elders:

...One student, who gave his name as Romeo C, said he was typical of the #occupywallst protesters. Romeo, 26, said: "We have a president who tells us to do the right thing, to go to school, to get a better life, but I'm not getting a better life. I am a new college graduate and I have $50,000 of college debt built up while studying business management at Berkeley. I can't find a job to pay it off."

"Look around us, Chase, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs – they got us in this position in the first place. The banks get a bailout but what about us? Where's our bailout?"

"A lot of my friends are here. We have good degrees, we have worked hard, but now what?"

The protests have, so far, been blocked from Wall Street itself and several have been arrested. It has not, however, been violent (another reason it's not getting reported). Instead, it is following the template for protests in Europe in the wake of the economic crisis there:

...Among the group was Javier Dorado, a law professor from Spain who compared the protesters with the mass "indignant" demonstrations in his country against high unemployment, welfare cuts and corruption.

"This is a global phenomenon that is taking place in Europe and many countries," Dorado said...

It would be nice to think that this really is a turning point, despite the lack of momentum so far (or rather, the narrative of 'dwindling attendence' that those few news organisations reporting on it have sometimes invoked). What really is significant, however, is that the young middle classes are increasingly becoming disillusioned with the status quo, which may have major political implications down the line:

...One of the demonstrators, Robert Siegel, said that eight years working as a consultant for an investment bank was enough to turn him into a protester.

"I just shuffled other people's money around and took a cut. Nothing was being contributed. A lot was just being taken out," he told Silverman. "[I] watched the silliness compound on itself. At some point, I wanted a lifestyle that didn't consist of going up to computers to deal with angry people..."

For some, at least, it seems that apathy is not enough.

[SOURCES: Washington Post, The Guardian, AFP, CBS News, ABC News]

[IMAGE: C/O David_Shankbone @ Flickr, www.shankbone.org]

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Alexander Hay

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