The Occupy Wall Street movement turns one month old today. Protesters and spectators alike ask, where does it go from here?
Openly acknowledging the Arab Spring protests that spread around the Middle East like wildfire last February on its website as its inspiration, Occupy Wall Street has enjoyed similar viral success. Momentum continued to grow as this weekend saw not only thousands of protesters marching on Times Square but high-profile solidarity protests as far away as Australia, Italy and Japan.
But the Arab Spring protests and Occupy Wall Street differ in one major area: the demands. The goal of the Arab Spring uprisings in most countries was clear: get rid of the dictators and replace them with new democratic governments.
Occupy Wall Street, on the other hand, one month in has still to issue specific demands—something that has drawn criticism for the movement—because the complaints, while real and valid, are more complex and harder to point to than a tyrannical dictator. Rather, the movement takes issue with systematic unfairness in the American financial sector and broad economy, as well as global macroeconomic forces to a certain extent.
While the unfairness the movement is railing against wreak havoc on the masses, proposing effective solutions to these kinds of economic problems is something Nobel Prize-winning economists struggle to agree on. So how is a huge group of protesters supposed to figure it out?
Nevertheless, they are trying. The group that has cohered at the center of New York’s occupation has assembled a “Declaration of the Occupation of New York City.” There’s considerable debate about whether assembling a specific list of demands is a good idea. But twice a week in the General Assembly—the group’s form of direct democracy—a “demands committee” discusses plans to assemble a list of specific demands.
New York Times reports the group’s website currently hosts a tally of votes for a charter of demands. “395 votes to ‘nationalize the Federal Reserve,’ 138 for ‘universal education’ and 245 to ‘end corporate personhood.’” This list is about to be removed from the site, however, because some people are not able to vote online.
And then, of course, there’s the issue of knowing for certain whether the economic policies decided on by the group will actually have the intended macroeconomic results.
It has always seemed to me that the principle complaint of Occupy Wall Street is rampant unfairness, and that specific demands should center on shifting economic benefit toward the 99% and away from the richest 1%.
Who knows whether the protesters will be able to come up with a policy charter to achieve this goal. But what we know for sure is that the last few decades of economic policy crafted by the supposed “elite” strata of economists, lobbyists and politicians has failed wildly. Why not give the masses a shot?