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Wall street occupation - a new movement in the US

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The Wall Street occupation movement may have been ignored by the US mainstream media, but now it is spreading across the country writes Jeff Albertson

With revolutions and uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East, to Wisconsin and the American Mid West; union struggles on taking place across the world, 2011 will go down as one of the most historically significant years in recent memory. Now nearly eight months after the mass union, student, and youth mobilizations in Madison, Columbus, and Indianapolis, a new struggle has emerged – one that wants to make the bankers, international financiers, and multi-national corporations pay for the ravages they’ve inflicted on our society.

Beginning with only a few dozen activists whose mission was to draw attention to the predatory and destructive character of Wall St and the government’s constant bowing to its wishes by occupying the park in the heart of Manhattan’s financial district, the protest has grown to several thousand and has spawned a nationwide solidarity movement that seeks to rally what it refers to as the 99% of America that got screwed over with the onset of the greatest economic crisis since the end of the Second World War and the bailouts for the rich and the austerity for the rest of us that followed it.

New York City and the occupation of the park now renamed Liberty Square has become – both symbolically and literally – the proverbial gathering point, representing a microcosm of political outrage with the political and economic situation engulfing the nation. Those in attendance, ranging from debt-bonded students, to chronically unemployed workers and youth, to pensioners struggling in poverty, to frustrated and militant trade-unionists, could no longer contain their rage in isolation and silence, and, drawing on inspiration from the Arab Spring and the movement that brought down the former tyrannical dictator Mubarak of Egypt, have promised to assemble and occupy until the “fat cats” get what is coming to them.

For many both in attendance and across the country, it represents a political antitheses to the reactionary Tea Party, a resistance to austerity and growing poverty, and, most importantly, a spirit of hope that the oppressed - who since Wisconsin have remained relatively quiet - have finally risen up and that things can change for the better if we want it bad enough.

Support has poured in from across the country. Some in attendance hitch-hiked from across the in order to join the protest. It is the poor and downtrodden who have donated so generously whatever little money they have to support the cause and keep it going.

Protests grow
Yet if it were not for that fateful event – when a high ranking police officers pepper-sprayed unarmed, defenseless protesters – the size, durability, and its growth from coast to coast might never have occurred. Since then more and more people have arrived on the scene to not only protest against Wall St. but also against outrageous police brutality and the heavy-handed character of the NYC Police Department (NYPD) as it keeps “order” around the park and downtown Manhattan.

Now, the United States is well on its way now of becoming “Occupation Nation.” From the largest cities – from Chicago, to Boston, to Los Angles – to the smallest Podunk towns you might never have heard of until now, the masses are taking to the streets in greater numbers.

During the second weekend of occupation and following on the heels of a large protest against the NYPD outside its headquarters, an important event occurred – one that will very well propel the current movement to new heights: a number of large and influential trade unions got involved. The militant Transit Workers Union of NYC (Local 100) voted to condemn the police response and support the occupation. Other unions like the Teamsters, the Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of Teachers, and the Industrial Workers of the World delivered messages of solidarity and some active support.

Concurrently, week two witnessed a march up the Brooklyn Bridge where up to 700 people were arrested after police intentionally led protesters up the inbound side, blocking traffic. The premeditated police maneuver has fueled a solidarity campaign demanding the immediate release of all prisoners involved in the incident.

The role and character of the police since the occupation began has been met with a variety of interpretations. Leon Trotsky once wrote, “a worker in the service of the capitalist state is not a worker but a bourgeois cop.” There are some within the protest that view the police as part of that 99% - in other words, just a sub-set of workers in blue uniforms. Others recognize, however, the repressive role the police play in any serious mobilization or action directed against the government, Wall St, or the capitalist class in general. The actions of the NYPD, so far – the pepper spraying of peaceful protesters, the sabotaging of a march, their defense of Wall St. and the city government – highlight the fact that the police are not on our side. They are the foremost protectors of those very bankers, financiers, and parasitic investors that have brought so much misery on us. We should view and treat them as they are: enemies of our resistance.

While the occupation has proved inspirational to millions, it lacks perspective and direction for the future. The program approved as a basis for agreement and combination by the General Assembly of NYC is too vague; it can be interpreted in a multitude of ways and it does not even name clearly capitalism as the enemy, nor does it outline to whom it seeks to address (Wall St. investors or the government?). In a sense, it suffers from the utopianism and democratism (calls for “real” democracy without addressing the crucial question of the role played by class in American society) reminiscent of the previous youth-led occupations of Spain.

One also has to consider the question of democracy in a country like the USA,which has a functioning parliamentary-democratic system. Without a class analysis and critique of the current political system and the elaboration of the kind of democracy we need to build to break the stranglehold massive international corporations and banks now hold over our lives, then we can and often will find ourselves trapped in the misty realm of abstract general categories. This is precisely where the protest stands. And it is crucial that it breaks free of it by outlining specifically its goals and defining clearly methods of struggle to achieve them.

Nevertheless this movement is important – and could help form a new left in the US which is anti-corporate, critical of the government (for the right reasons) and even do for the anticapitalism argument what the Tea party did for the anti-Tax payers argument. What is needed is a clear perspective on the way forward and more people to join and get involved.