There is one depressing proclamation in answer to this question which is tempting to subscribe to; it was crushed under the merciless wheel of capitalism. Looking back, we can see that 2011 was a considerable turning point in international politics. Social movements seemed set to change the World. The Arab Spring might have been the biggest influence and catalyst for ‘Occupy’, but of course the two are fundamentally different in more ways we might know.
Unlike the Arab Spring the Occupy Movement met a rather demeaning response of apathy. The sigh of cynicism from the observers was heard almost in unison with the shouts on the ground. The extreme violence which met protestors in Libya, Syria, Egypt and many more, certainly validated their concerns, tragically in real time, with pressure mounting to a greater extent every day (than any uprising in the West), largely coming from the international community; in the modern age they are unable to ignore it. Occupy is an interesting attempt to defy the outcomes of capitalism but a comparison cannot be made with sincerity to give respect and due justice to the cause across the Arab World.
Emotionally fuelled by YouTube videos of celebrities charging through the streets of New York (Mike Myers, Sean Lennon, who has inherited a life of total luxury in the Dakota Building overlooking Central Park), protestors yelled ‘we are the 99%’ to the blindingly indifferent slouching in their offices in Cities across the Western Hemisphere. It felt like a rather half-hearted delayed response to ‘hero’ of the movement, Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story (2009), and one can’t help wonder if any of them would be willing to join the marches of their Arab brothers and sisters across the Middle East as well.
The unique and confounding aspect of this happening in America is precisely that fact. The American economic and governmental system is based on capitalism (and always to an extent has worked on a model of the free market in accordance with aims of the liberal Founding Fathers – however skewed this may feel now) and the steady pursuit of wealth and superficial democracy is the environment no American alive hasn’t grown up in or enjoyed. Take this in contrast with say, Portugal or Turkey and the political turbulence they have witnessed in the last Century; the authoritarian regime of the Estado Novo only ended in 1974 with a relatively peaceful revolution in Portugal, for example. The events are surprising and none the less encouraging in this respect and illustrate an interesting generational difference (the same was true in London for Occupy and the student fee’s protest there the year before). It shows there exists a youth that want the same Western privileges and excesses as the post-depression, post-war teenagers had but without the moral weight of guilt. Revolutions are born out of disenfranchised youth. This is when the situation feels slightly idealised (and maybe will have always been the case).
The main question from the media and indeed surrounding any analysis of occupy revealed in the tone of discourse on the subject, is whether it is a legitimate grievance…six months of stay since September would show indicate that it is surely a genuine one. Dyed in the wool capitalists dismissed the protestors as spoiled hippies who were wasting their time, an understandable ploy (‘patting on the head’ as I like to call it) to condescend the youthful spirit of the movement. Wikipedia at least tells me that ‘In 2007 the richest 1% of the American population owned 34.6% of the country’s total wealth, and the next 19% owned 50.5%’. It finally felt that the Country, as well as many others, was finally awaking to the reality of greed and may want to pursue policies of universal healthcare, or fair taxes for the rich, for example. The biggest threat to the success and legitimacy of a movement like this was surely for it to be forgotten, to turn stale.
It feels that something about the Occupy Protest lacked a certain sense of intellectual honesty and integrity. Maybe it all came about around 20 years too early; the impact of climate change, nuclear proliferation and the rise of other global powers, and probably different economic and political systems, may very well make such protests about the fundamental behaviour of authority commonplace over the next few decades. Although it might be because the sensationalism has worn off (which ought to be half the aim of the movement for publicity), occupy seems to have fizzled out into nothing much to an air of disappointment. Because it is the first of its kind on a wide scale basis, there was and is no predictability around it and meanwhile the common cause of grievance is always just under the surface, if not in the US itself, certainly outside it.
One thing the movement did do was confirm suspicions of the foul prejudice and heavy-handedness of the Police across the US. Video footage of this occurring is a good thing, anywhere. The muted official reaction (Obama spoke vaguely in support of the protestors, although criticised them for ‘demonizing’ the financial sector) says it all essentially; good effort, but you’re not powerful enough yet. I hope this commentary doesn’t sound too snidely. It is a simple truth that the Arab Spring is the far more important global social event of last year and defying evil theocratic oppression is always going to be a bigger deal than the spectacle of ‘Occupy’.