Occupy Wall Street Goes Global: An Opinion

Occupy Wall Street Goes Global: An Opinion

According to October15.net, the official website of the October 15th, 2011 day of global protest related to Occupy Wall Street, on October 15th, 1,039 events were held in 87 countries around the world. Looking more broadly, according to Occupytogether.org, the main website for all Occupy movements, there are currently 2,301 cities hosting Occupy Together events worldwide, including Occupy New Orleans and a smaller community in Slidell. I think many have been surprised at the international scale that Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy Together movements have reached. However, if one scratches even slightly below the surface to see the similarities between the systemic problems of the United States and all countries which are sites of solidarity movements, no one should be shocked.

On to the question of why: Why has Occupy Wall Street been so successful as a catalyst for international expression of dissent? Every country has a unique political-economic history and domestic reasons for discontent, but rampant inequality and the plethora of policies seeking to annihilate social welfare as a necessary institution of any functioning society has citizens of every persuasion and background unwilling to continue watching as power is ripped from their hands. The structure of Occupy Wall Street being a venue for individual engagement and expression, rather than a hierarchical movement with unelected leaders co-opting people as ammunition for their fights, allows for greater solidarity internationally. An overwhelming number of policies can be examined as having impacts within the U.S. and on an international scale leading to the culmination of what is often referred to as a revolution, an “American Autumn,” if you will. Neoliberal policies enacted by the Nixon, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton administrations, the Bush tax cuts, the 2008 financial collapse and bailouts, recent corporate personhood decisions, and continuing record-high unemployment, and more can all be seen as causes.

However, by taking such a domestic and narrow view, we miss the broader, systematic problems created and perpetuated by unrestrained U.S.-style capitalism. I am aware of the tendency for many on the far Left to decry capitalism as a catch-all culprit for society’s woes, and note that this is not what I am doing. On the contrary, it takes serious and sincere analysis to accept why and how the United States is in many ways a global hegemon in implementing unregulated capitalism that results in and is perpetuated by a very intentional, specific power structure. This power structure includes the wealthiest 1% of Americans holding roughly 25% of national wealth, a fairly conservative estimate given by renowned economist Joseph Stiglitz. A similar model can be drawn for the United States’ global economic position: while I am of course not claiming that any sort of grand conspiracy exists, the current national and international distribution of wealth is, indeed, intentional and necessary to keep obscene amounts of power concentrated in the hands of western and American political and economic elites.

The point of this discussion is not to pin capitalism as diametrically opposed to the well-being of the international community or to propose a separate, distinct political-economic system as a solution. Instead, let this be part of an ongoing, genuine conversation on our current state of affairs, how we got here, how our situations truly are related in a global context, and what options are available for moving forward. Occupy Wall Street has sparked a dialogue that transcends national borders, and we owe it to ourselves to take this moment and educate ourselves beyond what partisan talking heads feed us. We owe it to ourselves to share ideas and try to understand what this movement means for every person, everywhere.