Photo by David Shankbone under a CC Licence.
The American Spring, spreading like a prairie fire from Los Angeles to New York and through myriad small towns across the US, is one of the most exciting people’s movements in recent history. To me, every popular uprising against exploitation and tyranny is moving and wonderful. But the American protests are historic because for the first time the myth that capitalism is the only way, propagated with consummate skill for more than half a century now by Hollywood and an all-powerful, all-pervasive media and advertising campaign, has been exposed for what it really is: a great big rotten lie. And it’s a lie that makes profits for a tiny percentage of the population at the expense of the majority.
The situation, as writer Jim Hightower explains it on the online magazine Nation of Change, is that ‘the wealthiest one per cent of Americans possess more net worth today than the bottom 90 percent of us combined. Worse, these privileged few and their political henchmen have structured a new economic ‘normal’ of long-term joblessness, low wages, no benefits or worker rights, miserly public services, and a steadily widening chasm between the rich and the rest of us.’
Americans know how to do protests. They do it with fanfare, originality and trumpets blowing. From the labour uprising in Wisconsin, to the tar sands sit-ins in Washington, to the Occupy Wall Street protests and one of the largest mass arrests in US history on the Brooklyn Bridge last week, the outrage is unmistakable and I have no doubt it will spread.
Even though the mainstream media has ignored or ridiculed the movement, alternative US media groups and the internet have covered what is really going on. It’s not just hippies, peaceniks and the angry unemployed who've swelled the numbers out on the streets. There are journalists, artists, students, teachers, union leaders, housewives, single dads; a group of marines have even joined the protestors, daring the police to do their worst. There are people from the left and the right. They do not wish to be branded or labelled. They are just people who have had enough.
Ordinary citizens have watched in disbelief as pensioners helplessly learn that their life savings and their futures have been wiped out after a lifetime’s hard work through no fault of their own. While those very same bankers, the Wall Street crooks, drive away in fancy cars with obscene bonuses and fat-cat perks, tax payers’ money is poured into schemes to bail out the same banks that have robbed them blind. Something stinks and the whole world knows this.
Through the eighties, nineties and the first decade of the millenium, people watched with helpless dismay as unbridled greed and consumerism overtook society, eroding its values. The nexus between corrupt politicians, bureaucrats and corporate leaders has become blatant. Something had to give. And finally, as the song says, ‘something is happening.’
And it's happening all over the world. In India, the anti-corruption movement, middle class though it is, has made waves all over the country. We are hugely affected by what happens in America. Perhaps the ripples of the American pond will reach us sooner or later. There are huge numbers of Indians living and working in the US. A British friend wonders why something similar isn't happening in the UK. The problems are exactly the same. The bankers were bailed out. Unemployment is at an all-time high. Everyone lives in fear of a looming depression.
Will Occupy Wall Street change the world? I hope so. It’s certainly the right climate for change.