It started in New York in July 2011 with a group of angry and disillusioned people, though it has roots going back much further. They descended on Wall Street to protest the ongoing decimation of American society by the institutions who lurked within those imposing skyscrapers. But it wasn’t just American society being decimated by those institutions. It was happening everywhere. It didn’t matter if it was Goldman Sachs in New York, Barclays in London, Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt or the similar institutions that had made their home in every city in the world; the process was the same… wealth and resources were being transferred away from the wider population and into the coffers of these institutions, and from there into the pockets of those who ran them. And it was happening at such a rate and to such an extent that it was completely destroying the lives of millions of ordinary people.
And to make matters worse, this process was being sanctioned – indeed facilitated – by the governments who had been elected to represent the interests of those ordinary people. Most of those who initially gathered on Wall Street to protest had voted for Barack Obama. They had elected him for many reasons, but his explicit promises to “bail out Main Street, not Wall Street” and to build a healthcare system that placed the interests of the people ahead of the interests of healthcare and insurance corporations were surely high among those reasons. But with a political system that offers a choice every four years between two parties who promise slightly different things but act identically; a system that marginalises alternative political parties and has convinced even the most fervent critics of the status quo that a vote for a third-party candidate is a shameful waste of the franchise; with that system firmly in place, the only option that remained was to take to the streets.
This is why the often expressed criticism (in the media and around the dinner table) that “the Occupy Movement doesn’t have a coherent alternative plan” rather misses the point. What is happening on the streets of New York, London, Dublin and elsewhere is a protest against the unholy alliance of corporations and government that has left the vast majority of us without any representation. Over time we can hope that an alternative to the status quo will emerge from these movements, but the initial instinct of the protesters was to raise their voice in opposition to a terrible injustice being perpetrated on the world.
That’s not enough of course. But it is a place to start. The only logical first step.
In fact, it goes beyond even the corporations and governments. In London the Occupy Movement took up residence in the grounds of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Traditionally the church was a place of sanctuary for the persecuted. Or at least, that was romantic myth carefully cultivated by the church. Was it ever true? Perhaps, though I have my doubts. Is it true now? Well, how’s this for a list…
- Lloyds TSB Group plc
- Goldman Sachs International
- UBS Investment Bank
- N M Rothschild & Sons Ltd
- J.P. Morgan
- American Express
- The London Stock Exchange
All appear on the website of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London as “financial supporters” of the Cathedral. Lloyds plc and the London Stock Exchange are also listed as “Corporate Partners” of St. Paul’s along with four other financial services companies. It seems clear that however many deans or canons resign, if the Occupy London Movement has demonstrated anything at all, it’s that those who run St. Paul’s Cathedral have not only allied themselves with the enemies of the people; they have quite consciously and explicitly abandoned the teachings of Jesus Christ.
And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.Matthew 21:12-13 | King James Version
Having said all that, I must admit to being a little ambivalent about the Occupy Movement. I don’t expect a detailed manifesto of action or a complete, coherent new political philosophy to emerge from such a disparate movement within a few short months. But I do find many of the statements emerging from the movement (and here I shift specifically to the Occupy Dame Street Movement in Dublin, for that is the one I’ve paid most attention to – though from what I can tell it is not hugely dissimilar to the others) to be over-cautious, and occasionally even self-contradictory. And that’s a problem in my view.
It’s my honest opinion that we need massive change; far greater than that being called for by Occupy. We need a wholesale rejection of the profit motive and an end to private corporations. We need to radically reconsider our relationship with material consumption and to come to terms with the reality that greater consumption does not equate to greater happiness; indeed it appears to produce an epidemic of psychological and physical health problems… from cancer to depression and beyond. I believe that economic growth must be abandoned, even demonised – for that is what it has become, metaphorically speaking. I believe we need to renew Nietzsche’s call for a “re-evaluation of all values”, though not necessarily in precisely the manner he envisioned.
Most of all, I believe we need to re-imagine the world from an ecological perspective… and I mean “ecological” in the broadest sense of the word… and to place physical sustainability at the heart of every social and economic policy. And all this extreme upheaval must be done in such a way as to cause a minimum of suffering and degradation, because the whole reason for doing it is precisely because we seek to minimise suffering and degradation. We are not doing this to “save the world”; the world will be just fine and will recover from pretty much anything we throw at it. No, we are doing this to save ourselves.
Unfortunately the Occupy Movement, by making demands they feel are reasonable and achievable, run the risk of having their demands met and yet achieving nothing. Leastways nothing of substance.
And now let me leave you with an interview with the inspirational Chris Hedges. He’s a supporter of the Occupy Movement, though he too sees it as potential fertile ground from which a more radical movement may spring. The interview is almost three hours long which is probably about 2 hours and 58 minutes longer than the average modern attention span. Nonetheless, I urge you to watch as much as you can. He speaks more sense than pretty much anyone else I’ve encountered on the internet (yes, yes, that’s a low bar, but he clears it by some margin).
photo courtesy of Occupy Dame Street