Five thousand people demand Wall St. pay for the crisis
DAVID DOUGHERTY, TRNN: On Saturday, September 17, several thousand people gathered in New York City’s financial district with the goal of taking on Wall Street. The original promotion for the occupation of Wall Street was published in the Adbusters magazine in July, and word quickly spread through online social networking sites. Among some of the protesters’ demands were calls for the imposition of taxes on Wall Street transactions and wealthy Americans, the reduction of corporate influence in United States government policymaking, and for radical political and economic restructuring to create more jobs and decrease soaring levels of poverty and inequality. The movement appears to have no core leadership or organizational hierarchy, and a number of political ideologies were present in the crowd. Organizers like Justin Wedes say people were drawn to the movement because of popular resentment towards the financial giants on Wall Street for their role in fueling the recent economic hardship that has hit communities across the country.
JUSTIN WEDES, TEACHER, ORGANIZER: I can only speak for myself as a teacher. I see teachers being laid off, I see school staff workers being laid off at the same time that Wall Street bankers and hedge funders are getting multimillion dollar bonuses with money that we bailed them out with as taxpayers just a few years ago. They’re evicting people from their houses in my community. They’re raising interest rates on credit cards. And it’s enough. Enough is enough. It’s time to fix problems, not make them.
DOUGHERTY: Many demonstrators have called for a prolonged occupation of part of Manhattan’s financial district in a strategy inspired by recent events organized across the world in places like Egypt, Spain, Israel, and Greece. The Financial District was quickly militarized by the NYPD, as hundreds of police officers were brought into the area, where they maintained a strong presence throughout the demonstrations. Wall Street itself was barricaded by dozens of police officers. And while they were initially expected to evict camping demonstrators, who later assembled in nearby Zuccotti Park, they ended up letting them stay in spite of the protesters lacking a permit. A multitude of voices were present at the mobilizations, with a large number of young people and students expressing their frustration with rising student loan debts and a perceived lack of employment opportunities.
CROWD: That is what hypocrisy looks like!
Show me what democracy looks like!
CROWD: This is what democracy looks like!
SARAH OSMAN, STUDENT: I have about $15,000 in student loans, and I’m still really hard to find something that I’m passionate about, like, let alone any jobs. I mean, I’m from Michigan, so it’s been really hard to find, like, different opportunities. And I don’t really want to settle for, you know, working for banking institutions. It’s really, like, the only jobs that are available.
DOUGHERTY: Some people traveled long distances to attend the rally, like Michigan autoworker Luis Vazquez.
LUIS VAZQUEZ, UNITED AUTO WORKERS LOCAL 1981: What I was really surprised by was the willingness for the Wall Street banks to be bailed out by the government and then to see such resistance on the part of many for rescuing the auto industry. The United States should return to the tax rates that existed during the Republican Eisenhower administration, where taxes on the very wealthy were, like, 90 percent. I think that’s what the wealthy should be paying today. And using that tax money to create even more jobs.
DOUGHERTY: Demonstrators later held a general assembly, where they broke off into subgroups with the goal of generating discussions and proposals on how to collectively organize both the logistics of the occupation as well as the formation of a long-term political project to address their concerns.
JOHN MCGLOIN, MATH TEACHER: I’m hoping that people will take their anger and use it for something constructive. We all need to get together. The general assembly is a wonderful forum for us regular people that don’t have millions to spend on media to get together and pressure the government to help normal people with normal lives.
DOUGHERTY: President Obama recently announced a proposal to tax high-income earners at the same rates as middle-income Americans, likely in response to growing calls for the rich to help pay for the country’s debt crisis in the wake of deep budget cuts to a number of public programs. According to David Graeber, author of Debt: The First 5,000 Years, politicians exaggerate the severity of the national debt in order to avoid addressing some of the more serious structural problems facing the United States.
DAVID GRAEBER, READER IN SOCIAL ANTHROPOLOGY, GOLDSMITH’S UNIV. OF LONDON: People talk about national debt as if it’s this great moral crisis. And it just–and debt came up as an issue mainly because politicians are completely incapable of solving any of the actual issues that we have in this country–economic crisis, unemployment, jobs, mortgages, general conditions of life, which are catastrophic for most Americans right now. And any attempt to actually solve those problems has basically been abandoned by now. Debt is a sort of tried-and-true method of creating what seems like a moral crisis, where everybody can kind of pitch in to help by essentially accepting even more of the status quo.
DOUGHERTY: By Monday, the group of demonstrators had dwindled to around 200, with the core pledging to continue camping in Zuccotti Park, which they have renamed Liberty Plaza. Some have vowed to remain for at least several months, with aspirations that the settlement will grow as more people learn of their movement to hold Wall Street accountable to the American public. This is David Dougherty with The Real News Network.
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