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Occupy Wall Street -- my opinion

I understand the values that Occupy Wall Street is attempting to promote, and I support them... but...

I think they're going about it the wrong way. A group of young liberals wants to change the world. Unfortunately, they aren't being very effective.

Here are the problems I have with the occupation of financial districts as a method of protest.

First... Corporate Greed can't be protested.

Occupy Wall Street is protesting, but I don't think they even have a clear idea of what they are protesting. In general they are protesting "corporate greed". Unfortunately, you can't protest greed.

Like the other seven deadly sins, greed is an attribute or a trait, not a decision.

It would be the equivalent of protesting lust, envy, gluttony, sloth, pride or wrath. While none of these traits are appealing, they are human.

Imagine a group of protesters trying to eliminate "lust". They may march around a strip club and interrupt business, but the customers still experience lust. The protesters can't eliminate it, they simply interrupt the process temporarily.

You cannot eliminate greed.

Second... they love to be hated by the media.

Occupy Wall Street was screaming that the media was treating them unfairly. They began the protest, but the media didn't cover it extensively. The protest gathered momentum when the protesters felt they were being ignored.

Unfortunately, a bunch of people chanting isn't news... the news media when interviewing protesters got only snippets and sound bites rather than real dialogue.

Third... when it comes to Fox News, Occupy Wall Street is a bit hypocritical.

Fox News is well known for their conservative viewpoints.

Occupy Wall Street accused Fox News of not presenting them favorably, or giving them enough exposure. Yet, when Geraldo Rivera and another newscaster tried to set up interviews on the street they were shouted down by the crowd. The crowd began chanting "Fox News Lies, Fox News Lies". They filmed it and placed their own news reports on YouTube.

Fox News tried to give them voice, and they declined.

Fourth... they have no real goals.

They brought attention to the fact that the vast majority of us are relatively poor, and much of the power in the world is controlled by the rich. Unfortunately, this isn't news.

They raised awareness, but now that they have our attention, they've done nothing with it. "Down with corporate greed" isn't an actionable goal.

Fifth... this isn't America seeking freedom.

I've heard Occupy Wall Street claiming that this protest is roughly an American equivalent to the grassroots Twitter inspired, protests that happened around the world and actually created significant changes.

In several Middle Eastern countries protesters gathered together in a peaceful demonstration and requested their totalitarian dictators step down. In some cases it worked, and in others it went awry.

In Egypt (where the first success happened) President Mubarak, who'd been in power for three decades realized he'd lost the people. Wisely, he chose to abdicate his presidency. The country is now in the process of rebuilding.

In Libya, Moammar Qaddafi refused. The result of the peaceful protest was an outright civil war that ended with many dead and injured. The protesters got what they wanted, Qaddafi was removed from power, but it's because the peaceful protesters offered an ultimatum, then carried it out.

Occupy Wall Street isn't toppling a government or changing the world. Furthermore, they don't have the constitution for what it would take. Clearly "corporate greed" hasn't given up. No CEOs of companies have stepped down. Banks haven't changed their policies. Stockholders are calling for elections. Yet, in spite of failure, Occupy Wall Street keeps protesting "peacefully".

Unfortunately, peaceful protests only works when there is the threat of force. None of the people on Wall Street are amassing weapons and getting ready to take the banks by storm. They're simply saying "Gee wouldn't it be nice if companies were less greedy."

Sixth... they aren't the 99%.

Yes, 99% of us don't have the power or money the other 1% has. Unfortunately, Occupy Wall Street doesn't represent the values of the 99%.

Most people are pretty happy. Yes, we give our money to banks, insurance companies, media conglomerates and oil companies. Yes, we aren't all happy about it. In fact, most of us are choosing the lesser of evils when purchasing products.

But, we aren't so unhappy that we stop purchasing.

We borrow money from banks. We purchase insurance rather than accept the risk. We subscribe to cable television and Internet service and all of us own cell phones and laptops. We drive cars, and continue to buy ones that put safety ahead of economy.

The only way to stop the effects of corporate greed is to stop buying.

If 99% feel the banks treat us unfairly, withdraw all your money. Bank of America will certainly change its policies when the masses start closing accounts.

"But I need my debit card" you may be thinking. Actually, you don't. If 99% of us stopped using them, stores would be happy to accept cash. Pay your electric bill with cash.

"But insurance is required by law." Well, change the system. Vote out any incumbent who requires mandatory insurance. Run for office on a platform of eliminating insurance companies. If you are elected, you can change the law.

"But the little guy can't compete in the marketplace." Sure you can. You simply need to build the product that is better, or cheaper, or makes people happier. Yes, this is difficult but every year new corporate giants come out of nowhere. Every corporation was a small company once. Even the large conglomerates became big because they bought smaller companies. Little guys can succeed, but they also have to be willing not to sell out when the big guys come knocking.

Occupy Wall Street protesters, it's time to go home. You've raised awareness in many cities. Unfortunately continuing to occupy will have the inverse effect of creating bad faith.

There is still work to be done. 

  • Wherever possible stop buying from excessively greedy corporations. Buy locally. Buy less. Specifically stay away from corporations that don't add value to your purchases such as banks, insurance companies, etc.
  • Start writing! Write to your Senators and members of Congress. Write on blogs and submit articles to mainstream publications.
  • Vote with your money. When you do buy a service or product, learn about the company before your purchase.
  • Research and vote to make changes in government.

I strongly believe in capitalism and democracy. It may not seem like it, but masses really do have the power. Corporate profits come from consumer buying. Political power lies within its constituency. Want to affect change? Educate yourself. Educate others. Vote.


  1. Jason, youve written a provocative meaningful article. I think that asking the Occupiers to simply write a letter to Congress and vote is missing the point here. The Occupiers dont truly believe in the system. These were probably people who, nearly 4 years ago, voted on "Change" only to see nothing happen. Voting for either political party has been creating the same results for over a decade so I can safely assume that the next election wont bring about a major change. I agree that simply asking Corporations to not be greedy is naive at best but I dont think this is the intent. I believe that they do want a more even playing field. If you read Theda Skocpol's "Social Revolutions in the Modern World", I think that what we're seeing here is indeed a social revolution. Not every revolution - at the time - had a well articulated goal. But they did have 1 thing in common: state failure. If you read Occupy Wall Street's list of grievances, they do have a very well articulated list. I think this goes far beyond just raising awareness. (ok more later)....

  2. (Continued)...

    A Propos to Voting
    I think we need to examine the reason people gather to protest. Its to be heard and because the 'normal channels' are biased. Therefore, excluded groups (from the dominent political & social stage) turn to direct action to pursue their causes. In your view above, you posit that people should stop protesting and use their vote and their purchasing power to affect change. I think this is rather simplistic. Lets discuss vote.
    Permeating the dominant political stage are several organising principles, including hierarchy, the division of labour and male and white domination. Further, when corporate power is dominating the political scence, the notion of democratic governance is almost quiant. The role that government plays is merely that of a referee who enforces the rules defined by corporations for their own benefit rather than the public’s. Under this paradigm, voting is futile. Since the 'normal channels' of change are biased, it is not surprising that excluded groups turn to direct action (aka protests) to pursue their causes. Direct action from groups within the society, does hold the potential of undermining the system by eroding its legitimacy. Is it this that worries you?

  3. Before I write about Purchasing Power (to address your point in the article above), I would like to revisit the Occupy Movement's list of demands/goals/aspirations. The Occupy Movement is connecting the dots on a map of dysfunction and injustice. Climate change. Toxic neighborhoods. Financial recklessness. Jobs despair. Concentrated wealth. Pointless war. The dots all connect to one central social pathology, which is funding (one might say, buying and selling) of elections (and of the elected) by powerful centers of wealth—mostly corporations, mostly destructive and extractive corporations. This has created a situation where the government is fundamentally controlled by those who would risk or wreck the (name your favorite: economy, environment, children’s futures) for their own short-term gain.

  4. Purchasing Power
    While you are entirely spot on in writing that people need to consume less, and more locally, and divest from predatory banks, I think that this will not be enough to change the power structure of our political stage. Government should be mitigating the effects of corporate greed. Without policy, slavery would still exist (because people are not that altruistic and not everyone will stop purchasing). Witout plicy, there would be no maternity leave, anti discrimination in the workplace, minimum wage, minimum working age, environmental controls, etc. The market simply does not mitigage these factors.

  5. Juliet makes some excellent points.

    First, let me respond by saying I'm definitely pro-protest. Protesters, and their right to march, are critical to our democracy. They bring attention when traditional channels can't. Our entire civil rights movement started this way.

    My only point regarding protest with the Occupy Movement is that the time has come to stop. In the first 30 days it captured our attention, and the fact that it spread to other cities in the US and in Europe validates the message.

    The support they saw early is waning in some circles. Rather than a consumer protest, now it's taken on a Liberal vs. Conservative vibe.

    The messages should remain clear. It's a call to action to all Americans, not just liberal Americans.

  6. To another point Juliet made... You are correct that we need more policy in the areas of corporate control over elections.

    Government also should be involved in preventing predatory business practices and other practices that destabilize our economy. Our current economic condition is largely a result of a bubble bursting in the real estate market. Real estate agents were getting rich. Bankers were getting rich. Homeowners and landlords were getting rich. Unfortunately all of that money has to come from somewhere. It took a while, but eventually taxpayers got the bill in the form of bailouts. I think the bailouts were necessary (unfortunately) however, we need to actively prevent this from happening again.

    The same thing happened in 2001 when dot com bubble burst. Irrational fundamental economic thinking escalated stock prices disproportionately.

    The difference being, with the tech bubble bursting, it was mostly the wealthy (investors and mutual fund owners) that were hurt. With the real estate bubble, it was average homeowners that were hurt the most.

    Yes, we need improved policy. Protests are a great way to draw attention, but ultimately policymakers are elected. We will need to rely on traditional democracy and capitalism to affect change.

  7. I'm on to make one final point more clear... I do agree with most of what Occupy Wall Street represents.

    I believe we need:

    More participation in democracy by typical citizens.

    More consumer protection from predatory business practices and monopolies.

    We currently have unprecedented freedom of speech... but there is no ceiling on freedom. We need to continue to protect freedom to protest and freedom of speech, particularly online.

    Individually, we need to be more aware of where our money is going. Spend money with companies that act responsibly to the environment, society, their customers and their workers.

    We need policy and accountability for predatory business practices. If you get caught lying in advertising, companies pay the fines. These finds are often less than the advertising budget, and considered part of the cost of doing business. This needs to end. When a company knowingly deceives consumers motivated by profits, monetary penalties should be extreme, and decision-makers should go to jail.

    Lobbying and fund-raising need to be better regulated. Politicians need to better disclose financial relationships. This last piece is pretty difficult, because it will create job insecurity for the very people who we rely on to create regulation.

  8. All of the social and political reasoning aside,
    Lets not forget that the people who organised this are professional protesters. Many of them will attend the protest du jour. After this is over, they will begin protesting the demise of the spotted owl, etc. They got lucky on this one and are basking in the attention. Many are anarchists, free marketeers and libertarian fringe groups. Libertarians come in all shapes and forms, in varying degrees of monetary, social, and governmental ideals, I think this has given stage to all of them, all of whom thru time and under the medias scrutiny have finnally
    condensed a singular message. I agree with your article in all aspects of your critique of their message, but I won't even analyze it because this was never an authentic social upheaval, but rather a contrived convention of professional protesters.

  9. With all due respect Viper, are you serious? Professional protestors? In the US? Look if this were Italy or Greece, Id say you have a point but for real - people dont protest here (or protest little). How do you know the composition of this group? When I was in NYC last, they looked like normal (mostly young) AMerican kids. The ones with whom I spoke were all college educated - with huge loans and few job prospects. Its esy to discredit the movement by simply writing it off as "A bunch of hippies"...kinda sounds reminiscent of the Vietnam war protests.


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