This past weekend, I witnessed the Occupy Wall Street movement up close and in full force in Portland, Oregon. When I returned to Eugene, Oregon, where I’m serving as a Visiting Professor this semester at the University of Oregon School of Law, the movement had peacefully taken over one of the main public parks downtown. I’m planning on stopping by this evening or over the weekend. The movement has been peaceful, and most importantly it has gotten a great deal of people thinking and talking. Here, in Oregon, students and people I meet on the street are abuzz about the movement and the financial condition the majority of Americans find themselves in today.
Last week, I conducted a lunchtime talk for students, staff, and faculty entitled “Race and the Financial Crisis: Sorting Myth from Reality.” This talk was well attended and resulted in many lengthy follow-up discussions with students and colleagues. Among students, many of my discussions have centered on the Occupy Wall Street Movement, what ideology it espouses and how it should move forward or morph into a political movement with lasting impact. My recent talk and subsequent discussions have forced me to think deeply about the Occupy Wall Street Movement, and to pose some strategic questions.
Democrats had their chance when they were a majority, early in President Obama’s term, and squandered the opportunities presented because of disunion, and lack of focus. In many ways, it is hard to tell a Democrat from a Republican in Washington. Personally, I think they are all drinking the same Kool-Aid. Democrats have adopted the rhetoric of Republicans. I’ve noticed lately, President Obama can’t finish a sentence or complete a statement without ending it with “…and it will lower the budget deficit” or "...we need to ease regulations." Democrats preach and cajole about the evils of regulation, much like their Republican counterparts. Democrats expound and trumpet free markets and private enterprise as much as Republicans nowadays.
Democrats and Republicans alike have failed 99% of us in American society. We have to keep the pressure on both parties. I say all of this to say clearly to the Occupy Wall Street Movement, keep the debate focused on the economic, political, and cultural policies that keep 99% of us indentured permanently to 1% of the population who own the means of production, and profit from their capital and investments while we slave away as laborers in the proverbial fields. Before a doctor can attack or treat a problem, he/she must first diagnose it. In my humble opinion, an economic, political, social and cultural doctrine that often goes unnamed, unidentified, and unspoken has gotten us in this terrible predicament. You ask what is it? What could this horrible disease be called? It is named Neo-Liberalism; and it took hold of our economic, political, social and cultural policies about 30-40 years ago.
- The rule of the market—free enterprise and private enterprise—which entails cutting public expenditures for social services like education, healthcare, and other public initiatives;
- Deregulation—little to no government regulation where profit maximization by private market actors is jeopardized or perceived as being harmed;
- Privatization—selling of state owned enterprises, goods, and services to private investors in the name of efficiency, which often leads to concentration of wealth and higher consumer payments and outlays for goods and services; and
- Elimination of the concept of the “public good” or “community”—in other words, “individual responsibility” is valued at a premium, every man, woman, and child in society has to fend for themselves and if they don’t succeed they’re just “lazy” or “shiftless.”
- Does this sound like plans to privatize Social Security?
- Sound like the decimation of our public school system in favor of private charter schools?
- What about efforts to privatize the procurement of student loans?
- Does this sound like efforts to abolish the EPA, and to dial back regulation of environmental polluters like BP?
- What about the privatization of our prison and penal system?
- Sound like the efforts to block universal healthcare in favor of the private market?
- What about bank deregulation in the late-1990’s and the passage of Gramm-Leach-Bliley?
- What about the failure to regulate derivatives and commodities in the 1990’s?
- What about telecom deregulation in the 1990’s?
- What about the 1980’s racially coded “Welfare Queen” who was demonized in the media for failing to pull herself up by the bootstrap because she was simply lazy and shiftless?
The wages of sin of a small minority are being visited on a vast majority. The Wall Street elites who got us into this mess go unpunished for their crimes, while their victims, those of us on Main Street, have been wrongfully convicted and serve their sentence and do their hard labor and eat their prison food. Where is the Innocence Project when you need it? America needs you Barry Scheck! Overturn our convictions, the glove doesn't fit.
The Financial Crisis has been a wake-up or clarion call to a multitude of people. The consequences of the Financial Crisis have been visited upon those least responsible for the economic crisis (i.e. women, children, people of color, and the elderly) in order to prop up powerfully entrenched elites, and those responsible for the financial bleeding. Society is at a serious underappreciated crossroads. Clearly, in this nation we are decidedly moving away from our Keynesian Economic Assumptions: full employment; economic equality; and regulation of private cartels. American Capitalism is turning into Vulture Capitalism where the weakest die on the side of the economic road or highway and are devoured to sustain the wealthy and elites. We are witnessing a failure of capitalism. The dust will settle somewhere and it might not be pretty. The economic pressure cooker may very well explode.
I challenge the Occupy Wall Street Movement to take a page from the finely honed Republican playbook to stay on message, find a talking point and stick to it. I submit to you, in our sound bite society, message truly does matter. One of the real big issues that has gotten us to this point is Neo-Liberalism—Occupy Wall Street Movement ideologically and intellectually pick up on this message and educate your followers and the public on the ills of the doctrine. Advocate a return to Keynesian Doctrine—full employment, economic equality and extension of the American Dream to as many as possible, and regulation of private cartels in the interests of the public good or community. We are all in this together. We can't afford to allow our racial, social, gender, or class differences to derail us.
The Occupy Wall Street Movement has the eyes and hears of the American and international public, carry a clear message forward. I thank and appreciate the Occupy Wall Street Movement for sparking a positive and non-violent discourse on issues that inform our society. Young and old, and people of all shades and walks of life are forcing a debate on the structure of our society that will have what I suspect will be a lasting impact for years to come. In the 1990’s, President Clinton helped reinvent welfare, as we know it. In 2011, the new mantra should be to reinvent corporate welfare, as we know it. We can no longer afford to bailout Wall Street, and write a blank check for the mistakes and miscues of corporate elites. Generally, we can and should reinvent American Capitalism, as we know it, moving forward to a bright future, to recapture the American Dream we were all told we could reach for and achieve. Occupy Wall Street is helping us to do just that. More power to those of you spearheading a timely and vast movement!