Dr. Fraser- Point of View
October 14, 2011
Has the American spring finally arrived?

A movement described as the ‘Arab Spring’ that has hit the Arab world appears finally to have reached the United States of America. This connection was made when an Egyptian Activist Mohammed Ezzzeldin addressed one of the Occupy Wall Street movements which started in New York, but has now reached hundreds of other American cities. No one is sure what this movement really is and how far it will go. Will it impact on the American Presidential elections?{{more}} What are the demands of the Movement? Who are its leaders? Is it a left version of the Tea Party? The Republican presidential candidates have begun to hit out at what some of them called mobs, while the Democrats are adopting a more sympathetic stand. But the Movement has only been around for a few weeks and the impact it can have on American society and politics is still up for speculation. Certainly it is hitting at the core of Republican interests, values and mindset.

One of the criticisms of the movement is that it has no clearly defined objectives. Whether this is a positive or negative factor for the movement is at this stage anyone’s guess. The Movement is leaderless, but is drawing support from people of all ages and backgrounds, from young people, old people, college students, representatives of community organisations, labour unions, churches, people of all shades of colour, in fact all people who feel that they have been betrayed by the system. ‘Occupy Wall Street’ might have been a convenient clarion call because of the anger over the bail outs given to Wall Street while the masses of people suffered from lack of jobs, debt, lack of Medical Insurance, high college fees, inequality and a multiplicity of other issues. They call themselves the 99 percent, drawing attention to the statistics that show that the richest one percent of Americans make as much income as the bottom 90 percent. One percent of Americans own 42 percent of all wealth, the richest 28 percent hold 87 percent of the country’s wealth, and the richest 11,000 American households have more income than the bottom 25 million households. But this is not all; fifty million Americans have no health insurance, and the richest Americans pay less than 17.2 percent of their income in taxes, and over 14 million Americans are jobless. Jesse Jackson sums it up adequately when he says that “Too few own and control too much, while too many are left out of the economic equation.”

It was important to make the connection with what was driving the wave of uprisings in the Arab World because the resentment and anger are against an unjust system that no one has been able to devise strategies to control, a global system that favours the haves, that is classified as neo-liberal and is about privatization, deregulation and reducing Government subsidies. When the economic system collapsed, those whom the people held responsible were the recipients of Government bail-outs, particularly the banks and corporations. So it is the anger against a system that is discriminating against the 99 percent, as they call themselves, that has brought these people together. There are at this stage no specific demands, but the movement is growing, attracting more support, and has the potential to mature into something big, although one is not sure what form it will take. Anti-War sentiments are now being heard, and environmental and other social movements are joining their ranks.

The Movement is also a learning curve, devising innovative strategies as it moves along. The ban on amplified sounds has led to an interesting approach where the words of speakers addressing the different gatherings are repeated until they are heard by all. Many have vowed to continue to occupy the spaces where they are and not to move. Decisions are made by informal general assemblies, the open spaces that they inhabit being used as a public forum and, as one member of the gathering said, also as a “springboard for ideas.” Generators are present to charge smart phones and temporary kitchens are assembled. Sympathisers from all ages and backgrounds bring food and other supplies and show their solidarity with what they are doing.

A recent public opinion poll indicates that forty five per cent of Americans believe that in dealing with the Economic crisis that has gripped America as it has the rest of the world, it matters little whether the White House is occupied by a Democrat or a Republican. This should not be taken lightly because what it suggests is a deep distrust of the political system and as has been voiced elsewhere, a belief that the system serves only a small, privileged minority. There is certainly not a great deal of optimism about a recovery from the economic crisis that has impacted the lives of working people and has dismantled the middle class. Although the significant numbers of persons who do not vote in American congressional and presidential elections can be interpreted as a lack of confidence in the political system, yet the significant numbers that do vote pin their hopes on the ability of the political system to deliver. What will be the consequence if a large number of the latter lose hope in the ability of the system to deliver?

This year has really been an interesting one, with governments all over the world, but particularly those in the Arab World, now beginning to recognise that it cannot be business as usual. Many of them had sat comfortably and governed through traditional conservative structures that kept the masses of the people out of the equation. Those people are now waking up and taking things in their own hands. In America it is somewhat different. There is what we interpret to be democracy, but the cost of getting into political office forces the candidates and incumbents to kowtow to the moneyed elite and in some way to be controlled by it. The global capitalist system is in crisis. Issues relating to the Greece bailout will impact not only Europe but also America and the rest of the world. The reactions all around are to a system that is out of control, and its failure to bring benefits to the majority of people. What happens with ‘Occupy Wall Street’ is still left to be seen. It could determine whether America will ever be the same again.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.