Wall Street blues


NEW YORK’S anti-capitalist demonstrators may be complaining noisily, and rightly, about the city police department, but in truth they owe it a vote of thanks. The cops’ ill-considered, disproportionate response to the “Occupy Wall Street” protesters on Saturday, arresting some 700 of them largely because they strayed without permission on to the roadway on the Brooklyn Bridge, has handed the tiny group a PR coup they could not have paid for. On a quiet news weekend they were propelled on to news programmes and into newspapers around the world.

The protest began 17 days ago when a few dozen protesters, from several organisations and none, moved in to camp in Manhattan’s financial district’s Zuccotti Park where they have established an open-air community with its own newspaper – the Occupied Wall Street Journal – and a makeshift hospital. They survive on donated food, huddle against the cold in sleeping bags and under plastic sheets, and keep their laptops and lively social media campaign running by means of a portable gas-powered generator.

The purpose is to protest against the power of money over politics, Wall Street’s malign influence generally, global warming, inequality, the need to tax the rich, and, it seems, anything you’re having yourself. One participant is calling for Andrew Jackson’s head to be removed from the $20 note because of his brutality to American Indians, while another, according to the New York Times, briefed a newcomer on their purpose along the following lines: “It’s about taking down systems, it doesn’t matter what you’re protesting. Just protest.” The spirit of the age.

Consciously modelling themselves on the leaderless protesters of Cairo’s Tahrir Square and the “indignados” of Madrid and Athens, they have slowly garnered support around the country. There have been spin-off marches and occupations bubbling up in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston and Washington.

The movement is unlikely to shake America, or even last, but its emergence, a bit like a “flash crowd”event generated off the internet, and its inchoate, anti-ideological quality are perhaps a good barometer of the times and of alienation of parts of a new tech-savvy generation. And the class war between rich and poor that the groups diagnose as raging in recession-hit America is a fact of life. As billionaire Warren Buffett told a radio interviewer the other day, “My class isn’t just winning, I mean we’re killing them.”