Now in its third week, the Occupy Wall Street movement gains momentum by the day. Last week, over 700 airline pilots marched with the protestors, Marines and soldiers joined in over the weekend, and thousands of union workers joined the protestors on Wall Street yesterday. Meanwhile, sister movements are cropping up across the country.
While the group has been criticized for its lack of focus and “vague demands,” its message has proven to be galvanizing. People who have lost jobs and homes, while bankers have taken bonuses after taxpayer bailouts, understand the message instantly. Workers who have lost their health care, unemployed college graduates saddled with crippling loans, and parents who can barely keep a roof over their children’s heads, are all ready to express their anger toward CEOs who lay off thousands of workers and then receive bonuses as their reward.
While it is not yet clear what the participants will be able to accomplish, they deserve our attention. Remarkable for 1) its youthful base, 2) its ability to attract participants across the political spectrum, 3) the power of its message (“We are the 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%”), 4) its commitment to building consensus in its daily meetings, and 5) its use of non-violent tactics, this movement commands respect.
Protestors are tired of bankers and corporations getting off scot-free while ordinary people pay the price. Protestors object to many actions of Wall Street in the past few years, such as the one exposed 15 months ago in the Time article, “How Goldman Trashed a Town.” In this case, as in many others, no aspect of the transaction was illegal (although a strong case could be made that many aspects of the transaction were unethical), so financiers were not held accountable for their actions, and ordinary towns and citizens paid.
Likening themselves to the “Arab spring” protestors, Occupy Wall Street organizers believe in the power of consistent, sustained, nonviolent presence. And they just may be right. They may be able to accomplish, outside the political system, what no one inside the political system has been able to accomplish. They may be the ones who can call our nation back to its soul in the midst of Wall Street greed and manipulation.
They are worth watching.