One of my philosophical ‘blast from the past’ research papers on Occupy Wall Street: why did it start and how did it interact with capitalism & communism. Enjoy my research and feel free to comment on it below!
The Failure of Capitalism: Occupy and Communism
As a citizen of this country we all have the right to a government that works for the people, and the right to check this government if anything ever got out of hand. Movements have been made in this society when a certain principle is lacking in the lives of the people, prompting the government to act one way or another. When people group together for a common purpose, this is usually called a protest. Protesting is a way that the people can take a stand on an issue that others may be concerned about as well. The ideal protest is a peaceful demonstration that is informative, helpful to those involved, and moves others for the cause as well—hopefully gaining momentum and traveling to the government in charge. Often, protests turn into riots due to unfortunate circumstances. Riots, often involving some form of violence and outrage, are similar to protests because both actions signify the peoples’ reaction to a government that has ignored an issue for too long. Both are also similar in the sense that history can be changed due to these actions–either local, national, or worldwide.
Yet, what is the response to protests and riots today in America? How are protests and riots classified in America today? Do the American people believe that protesters are over privileged, or a fundamental part of change in any system today? Occupy Wall Street is a great example of a protest that, despite its lack of organization, changed the dialogue of income inequality in America. Some feel that the movement could have done more, while others describe it as a gathering of ‘overly privileged children that do not want to work’. Badiou goes into detail over riots, their makeup, and why they are important for history to happen. Using scholarly articles, personal experience, will present what riots and protests are (in a scholarly definition) and how others outside of the circle view the cause with the help of the media.
When talking about protests such as Occupy, a critical component is the financial world. It pays to take heed to prices, markets, and people’s’ living standards before something like a protest comes about. Political power is also tied to financial power, especially in our capitalist society. Having wealth opens the door for policies and laws that favor corporations or special interest group. A good example of financial and political power is ‘rescuing the banks’ that happened in around 2008. Due to the carelessness of various banks, the whole country had the struggle of to bailout the banks or let the whole country take a nosedive. In such a situation the banks held great financial power (and still do) over the entire country and as such, the vast political powers didn’t have much of a choice but to rescue the banks. The economic crash still happened in the US, even with bailing the banks out of disaster. Many homeowners lost their homes due to corrupt loans and mortgages, since the government money was loaned to the banks to use as they wish—on the bank’s own interests. People were forced to relocate, if that was possible. The housing market was down. Combine this with the widening wage gap, it’s a wonder that people took so long to organize on the streets. Did capitalism fail the people?
Despite the criticism of Occupy being a ‘failed’ movement, it has spread outside of the United States to places such as Greece, Spain, the UK, and beyond. In this sense, Occupy is a successful movement because it grew out of its initial country. In its humble beginnings, how did people protest within their local states? Some locations were very effective in organization, others were ‘having a good time’ with no such agenda. Depending on your area, this mindset posed a dual reality: those who are protesting the system and those who are just protesting. The excitement of the event and standing with others that you share a common goal morphs into the thrill of being in the occupied zones. Those protesting the system use this to forward the movement while the second group ‘fall in love’ with the act of protesting. Even with this split Occupy definitely started a conversation that was long overdue. It was a beginning, not an end, of this dialogue that grounded Occupy as a movement as people thought of alternatives to the way things were being done. Despite the good that is Occupy, Zizek points out one major flaw that he sees: this rage against injustice does not form into political change for the country. It is ‘revolt without revolution’. The conversations about class and privilege were being had yet the official government did not take specific action in itself. Despite the critique that Zizek offers about Occupy, the movement allowed people to think of alternatives to the capitalist system.
Yet what is the problem that led to all of this? Who do you blame for a situation like this: the government or individual greed? Instead of just blaming the individuals you also must blame the system that allows greed to run so wild. This emphasis on mortal sin prevents people from critiquing capitalism itself.
Despite being a protest Occupy shares some characteristics that Alain Badiou describes to riots. As the movement first started off, young adults filled New York for the common goal of a brighter future without staggering debt and hopelessness. In such a class division was first formed more or less: the young people (who were not working if protesting) and workers (who were just trying to earn their wages). This small tiny fact echoes the old idea of having the ‘dangerous citizens’ stand off with the non-rebellious ‘good citizens’. This conflicting ‘we vs. them’ mentality held over where in Occupy Athens (GA) as I joined the protest lines in the winter of 2011. The ‘hard working’ people, usually older adults, sneered at our young generation for being ‘entitled’ and ‘lazy’ and not just dealing with what life tossed at us. Some of the protesting students were compared to the protesters of the Vietnam war, drawing lines that joined the young of their time to the young of today. Some of the same adults that sneered and harassed us from our barricade could easily have been the returning veterans of that time—which did not get the hero’s welcome back home like one would expect today.
Another shared characteristic is the importance of public opinion around the protests and enforcing the law. Ask anyone now if Occupy was a success and this reply will be with many others: it was an unorganized failure. In determining a movement’s success people want to know what did it change on the governmental level. People talked about the social wage inequality but what happened after the talk? This public opinion, along with others, shape the story of Occupy and aligns with Zizek’s earlier criticism.
As with any stand against a system, the police will likely get involved. Protesters were arrested for crimes such as damaged property, a huge and costly offence, and disrupting the peace. Damage to property is such a huge deal because our money driven society puts great importance on monetary value: along with Occident (of the West) and Laicism (political system of power). This trifecta of Western culture, political power, and money creates the ‘zero tolerance’ mindset for those who break these norms. This zero tolerance is applied to the ‘Others’ in our society, such as a young black thief, yet not to everyone such as a corrupt banker. It is also extended to ‘troublesome youth’ and protesters who are classified as ‘trouble’ and must be dealt with. This importance on property and the criminalization of the ‘Other’ gives the mentality that material goods are more important than actual human lives. For imprisoned protesters and gunned down youth, this mentality is all too real. The policy of preferring things over existence, machines over people is regarded as the primary alienation of capitalism. This preference of goods and profit over the living of people help lead the housing crisis as many were given loans that the banks knew were too high risk in the beginning, and this mentality is part of what Occupy cried out against.
Now I turn my attention to the second half of this paper. Badiou’s claim to communism is defined by the creation of the common of the collective destiny. This gives communism two distinct features. First, the common represents humanity as a whole. Everyone has a voice and opinion—all possibilities are examined and every person has their own unique variety. Secondly this ideal bridges the gaps between people usually seen as contradictions: intellectuals and manual workers, poor and rich, men and women, and so on. This bridging allows for people to interact and come together without fear of harm. The communism described here is not the usually definition but rather a social communism where everyone is valued and heard. Occupy Wall Street started on September 17 in New York City. All of the basic necessities, such as food, shelter, and education, of our society are limited or unavailable to a startling number of Americans from the poor working class to even career working middle class citizens. With the steadily rising amount of student loan debt, the housing crash that took away thousands of homes, and the power of huge banks have over the economy and lives of others it is reasonable to be upset about these problems. The movement spread with the 99% wanting their voices heard and to address a pressing issue of our time. Badiou’s social communism can be said to work with the Occupy movement: individual voices joined together for a common goal of being valued in our capitalist society.
As with any joining of people, protesters have to be weary of those who are turning the protest into a harmless gesture of morality. A former president thought the protests were a good thing yet needed to be against something specific and not just a system. Yet getting behind the current system causes people to be tired and weary. Along with the protest, which is the start of a bigger conversation, people must remain mobilized in the movement for it to succeed. As such, all protesters must work for the unified good of the movement and to weed the false ones out.
This New Communism idea sounds great: the gathering of great wealth would disappear, the division of labor will be reduced, and class divisions could be a thing of the past. Could this be an end goal of Occupy, if it had played out greater on the political realm? A purely unjust society sounds like a far reach, especially for a place like America. Many also remember the horrors of communism past and never want to go to that place in human existence again. The possibility of new communism repeating the errors of the past is something to truly process. For those who are young, angry, and driven to the brink of their patience, what other alternative is out there? These questions are hard to answer by anyone as no human can see a clear path into the future. The multitudes of people that have ideas or answers to questions that have not been answered yet. The answers to these questions will probably come up soon when the time is right.
Badiou’s stake in the New Idea, this new communism, needs further investigation. The dual American lifestyles are one problem that Occupy and others are addressing. The gated communities are a physical example of this duality, where people can hold great wealth and almost no wealth in the same town. As a country that pays for education with neighborhood taxes, it is no surprise that a quality education is hard to come by and very Anglo-Saxon in viewpoint. Wealth inequality also encases racial and gender inequalities—which helps to promote the two American realities. In such, places were the wealthy and well-off are housed, educated, and transported cannot be confused with those of the poor Through the systems we live by, those from another country are labeled ‘aliens’—even if numerous generations lived here also. Women are attacked from wearing too little (promoting the ‘underground’ rape culture) to not being feminine enough (from gender stereotypes). Everyone that is different from the idea of American values is often judged by the various systems, such as judicial and so on, that citizens live by. Thus American values are shaped. With economic backing these values separate the wealthy from the poor and the wealthy are the ones that have the economic power. This is seen in the cuts to welfare programs such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and Planned Parenthood—which the poor can ‘get fat on’ because these count as social ‘privileges’. As these changes are set forth and the dual lifestyles are enforced, people started to get fed up with the current way of life. This can prompt a revolt or rebellion such as Occupy that thirsts for change. The communist idea can challenge the corrupt side of democracy that capitalism seems to bring out, as well as show the racial and nationalistic ugliness that is hidden within the system. By learning from the failures of the past, the New Idea can grow by the diversity of these movements integrated with communism.
Another view on this issue is to reform democracy back to its ideal state. It is time to have honest capitalists that will serve the good of their nation and not their profiteers. Simple rights such as housing, culture, health, education, and political participation should be accessible to any citizen that has the desire. Money has to be placed back in the service of human beings instead of being glorified above all. Exchanging money as political power is a great cause of corruption in our system today. A good analogy for the spread of greed is Coca-Cola. The more you drink, the thirstier you become. The thirst for more spreads and can lead to more and more corruption within the system. Greed also propels alienation from one another, splitting people apart based on wealth and capital. Communication between the two groups then become difficult if not impossible–the laws reflect this well in our society where the wishes of the workers (proletariat) are defined by the wealthy (bourgeoisie). This greed fits into capitalism the system very well as capitalism seems to fulfill itself as a cycle. Capital leads to greed, greed leads to more capital, capital leads to more power, power leads to a greater chance of being corrupted by the offer of more capital. The cycle just renews itself over and over again. Capital has been glorified to the point that actual hard labor has lost a bit of its luster, to be replaced by intellectual work/number counting. With capital being a big influence of today it will take an exchange of ideas to center people back into the mindset of a level playing field with every person starting off with a fair amount of rights.
In reference to democracy one must also purify the method of the right vote—or having a freedom to vote for the right candidate. After all, free voting must truly be free voting to revert democracy back to its roots. The power of voting in democracy is incredibly powerful as political power and as a tool of expression. For Zizek, using democracy to improve the world is akin to the Matrix–an illusion that covers the eyes before taking the red pill. Thus in the communist idea Zizek turns away completely from democracy and allows others to do the same. As such, a revolutionary idea allows for one to disregard the opinion of the majority for radical change. The idea then imposes its power upon the existing totality and destroy it. Occupy Wall Street did not impose its power upon the existing systems yet it makes one wonder what could have happened if this idea blossomed even further. For Zizek the idea of Communism would have the ability to impose its power upon capitalistic democracy and crush it, despite the opinion of the majority. The imposed power of Occupy was to change the dialogue of societal privilege and showed just how bad the wage inequality has become. The idea of the 99% imposing its power upon the government sounds like it would work in theory, yet the systems that our democracy now operate keeps the 1% in charge.
This is a time of change where people are speaking out against the corrupt norms of the world. A newer example is the current Occupy Monsanto movement, inspired from Occupy Wall Street. This movement is calling out Monsanto and GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) in the food industry. Occupy Monsanto is challenging the power of Monsanto and the agribusiness that allows our food to be produced similar to an input/output machine. This movement aims to hold Monsanto accountable for the damage done around the world. Labeling GMOs are also a crucial goal along with more research into what effects GMOs have on the environment and human health. The power of Monsanto stretches to lobbying, animal feed, plant seeds, and even suing farmers that inadvertently use their product (such as the wind blowing seeds to one’s ground). This movement is calling attention to how food and economics collide on a grand scale. GMOs are grown in this country and exported many miles across the globe–and vise versa. The health of many people are at stake, especially the poor which are vulnerable to cheaper, low-quality food. The adverse health effects of poor food, and poor food choices, range from childhood obesity to deadly unnatural allergic reactions (such as a nut gene in a corn plant). The lack of labeling and regulation of these GMOs are a product of intense lobbying and a corruption of the democratic system. The power of agribusiness has this country in a vice grip of food, profit, and plants. Monsanto mirrors the looming shadow of power that the banks have in America. As such, both Occupy movements are related together.
To our protesters that wish to change the current system instead of revert democracy back to its ideal form a problem must be addressed early: what will replace the current system? The New Idea, Communism, is presented as a new form of organization and discipline. The protesters are in a sense communist: they care about commons of life (such as knowledge and quality food) which are threatened by the system. In a system based on profit and where greed is looked up upon these commons are threatened by budget cuts to departments, funding education, and passing laws that are in corporate interests instead of the people’s interest, perhaps communism and the ideals that both Occupy protesters stand for are similar indeed. The objectives of the movements can reflect similar objectives to the New Idea and make a better government for the people.
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Žižek, Slavoj. The Year of Dreaming Dangerously. London: Verso, 2012. Print.
Badiou, Alain, and Gregory Elliott. The Rebirth of History. London: Verso, 2012. Print.