Can Occupy Wall Street Work?


I’ve been putting off writing about Occupy Wall Street because I’m not sure what to say about it. I’m not even sure how to feel about it. But I feel like something needs to be said so here goes.

For those who don’t know, Occupy Wall Street is an ad hoc group of dissatisfied citizens who are protesting the actions of big Wall Street firms by staging an on-going protest. There are sister protests taking place in other cities. The message they’re sending is that corporate greed and profit-mongering have enhanced the wealth of the few and caused the downfall of the many. Taking the uprisings in the Arab world as a model, the protestors mean to stand there until something changes.

I don’t think anything will change. Not this way anyhow.

I could go on at length about how to organize a grassroots effort to maximize media opportunities and how to craft universal talking points that convey clearly the goals of the movement.  But that’s not what the Occupiers are about. They are a show of mass, an attempt to put faces to the statistics. They are the spiritual children of other peaceable movements to evoke change and their goals are good ones. The playing field today is not even and that is entirely because wealth has been aggregated by corporations and the very wealthy, leaving not enough for the rest of America. The message the Occupiers are sending is “Something needs to change” and that message is 100% true.

But answer me this: who has the power to evoke the necessary changes? And what incentive do they have to do so?

We are at the mercy of two groups, corporations and legislators. They are in bed with each other and until they get out of that bed and move into separate rooms, nothing will change.

You see, corporations have no social conscience and exist to make money. They will do everything in their power to make money and will only change if there is more money to be made by doing so or if they are forced to do so by the law. The investment firms the Occupiers object to will not lose money over this protest. The Occupiers are not their customers. So they lose nothing in this, no mater how many people march on lower Manhattan. Unless the marchers are major stockholders or clients. And they aren’t.

Legislators should have a social conscience and be willing to create rules that force the distribution of wealth by corporations in times such as these but they won’t. Because the corporations give generously to legislator’s re-election campaigns and those donations buy access to legislators. Legislators meet with their biggest donors and listen to their concerns. The may not always act in a donor’s best interest, but they know what the donor’s best interest is because they take the time to sit with them. Make no mistake, campaign contributions buy access and they buy favorable treatment.

And those contributions are vital to getting elected. You cannot be elected to office in America without money. Gobs and gobs and gobs of money. The kind of money that only the institutions that the Occupiers are protesting have.

Corporations will not change. They will keep paying for access and keep gaining favors. Legislators will not force change because they need they money to stay in their seats.

What’s the solution then? Campaign reform. We need to remove all private money from political campaigns. All of it. Every cent, from the $50 that my grandfather gave Obama’s 2012 campaign to the millions corporate Political Action Committees are allowed to throw around since the Citizens United decision. If private money is removed from the process, then votes will the the only form of influence left and citizens, like the Occupiers, will have a louder voice. In my opinion, that would level the playing field for individuals. It would disenfranchise corporations from the electoral process but corporations, despite what some may say, are not people.  And the government is supposed to be for the people and of the people.

I wish the Occupy Wall Street movement the best. I hope that I’m wrong and that a show of determination, of people in the streets will bring the change we need. I think that the problem is onion-like in its layers and Occupy Wall Street has only begun to peel them back. But they’ve made a start and the longest journey begins with one step.

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5 comments for “Can Occupy Wall Street Work?

  1. Court
    October 13, 2011 at 12:44 am

    I’m glad that people are coming together and making their voices heard about something, but I think this Occupy movement is misguided. They are mad at businesses for doing what businesses do, which is make money and in our country ‘maximize profits.’ The government is at fault for the deregulation and revision of tax-law over the past few decades that has allowed big business tax loopholes, bail-outs, derivatives and zero accountability. I completely agree that election reform would solve much of this. If a group or business can’t buy influence then maybe we can go back to governing for the common good. Thank you so much for writing this post. I felt like I was the only one who felt this way.

  2. October 13, 2011 at 7:48 am

    Corporations sound like Gene Simmons and maybe need to have a few years therapy with Dr. Ann Wexler. ;P

  3. October 13, 2011 at 7:35 pm

    That was an amazing read. I was just telling my husband the same thing: We can protest all we want and make our dissatisfaction known but nothing will change bc the ppl who CAN change it are nit motivated to change. Their bank accounts aren’t going to grow a conscience overnight or probably ever. The future looks pretty bleak for us. Maybe once there’s no one to buy their product bc we can’t even afford to keep them wealthy any longer, they’ll get the message.

  4. Jack Stollsteimer
    October 15, 2011 at 4:53 pm

    Rebekah – you’re absolute right; corporate America is complete immoral and concerned only with self-interest and short-term profits. They have purchased our political system, both R and D, as the recent votes on Free Trade attest. However, I don’t think your solution is practical: the alternative to a ban on private funding for campaigns is public financing, an idea most people I suspect wouldn’t support, and which would turn our First Amendement jurisprudence on its head (although after the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, that might not be a bad thing). The answer, from experience in politics, is an active and informed citizendry. In any democracy, votes trump money. If middle class voters would stop being distracted by petty issues and personalities and instead ban together in support of candidates who will fight for the economic interests of the majority, the politicians will follow. In my experience, every politican just wants to be loved and to stay in office; it’s our job to make sure they serve our interests.

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