Why We Occupy, What We Know

Occupy Eugene rally, 15 October 2011

We are here as part of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which in a few short weeks has become a global movement in hundreds of cities around the world.  We are part of the 99 percent not only in this country but the world.

I have been reading the mainstream, corporate media.  I have been listening to the pundits, the power brokers, the politicians.  They criticize our movement, saying we don’t really know why we are here.  They claim that we are simply angry; that all we are is an “emotional outcry.”  House majority leader Eric Cantor calls us “a growing mob.”

Wall Street bankers interviewed by the New York Times say that we are “fringe groups”; that we will “thin out” and disperse when the weather gets colder.

A New York Times article reported yesterday that we were confused “liberal activists” fed up with partisan politics but with no real ideas of your own.  An editorial in the same paper said we were just protestors, with no clear demands.  We are well meaning, they conceded, but it is the politicians, not the people in the street, who have the job — so they say — of determining the future course of things, not us, not the 99%.

Foreign Affairs magazine, the publication of the Council on Foreign Relations, writes that Occupy Wall Street is critical of Wall Street, but not of capitalism; they say that we do not question the system itself.

They are wrong.  We are part of the growing army of the Occupy Wall Street movement worldwide.  And we know why we are here.

  • We know that U.S. society has become fundamentally unequal.  We know, though we may not all know the exact numbers, that the top 1 percent of income recipients receives almost 25 percent of all income in the society (including capital gains), and the top 10 percent receives almost 50 percent.
  • We know, though we might not be able to quote the figures precisely, that, between 1950 and 1970, for every additional dollar made by those in the bottom 90 percent of income earners, those in the top one hundredth of one percent received $162 dollars.  But that was back when things were more equal!  Between 1990 and 2002, for every added dollar made by those in the bottom 90 percent of the population, those in the top one hundredth of one percent made an additional $18,000.
  • We know about the Forbes 400.  That in the United States 400 individuals (a number far less than those here today) own as much wealth as the bottom half of the U.S. population, some 150 million people.
  • We know, though we may not know the precise details, that according to an audit by the U.S. General Accounting Office, the Federal Reserve Board provided more than $16 trillion in financial assistance in the latest financial crisis to the largest corporations in the United States and the world.  The rich were bailed out while the majority of the population was made to pay the cost!  And you are still paying!
  • We know that there is over 9 percent official unemployment in the United States, while the real number of people who want full-time employment and don’t have it is around twice that.
  • We know that official unemployment for adolescents is 25%; for blacks 16 percent; for Latinos and Latinas 11%.  And if you double these numbers you are closer to reality.
  • We know, though we may not realize its full extent, that there are 2.4 billion people globally who, according to the International Labor Organization, are unemployed, underemployed, economically inactive, or engaged in subsistence labor.  That 39 percent of the world’s workers live on less than $2 a day.
  • We know that multinational corporations exploit the differences in wages between countries, taking advantage of the enormous global reserve army of the unemployed, to generate humongous profits, and to hold down wages worldwide.
  • We know that there is no real economic recovery; that we are in a period of economic stagnation, where only the rich are prospering.  That economic growth in the United States has been slowing down in each successive decade since the 1960s and is now virtually stagnant.  That the rich are getting bigger slices of a non-growing pie while the slices for almost everyone else are less.
  • We know that the planet is being destroyed.  That the future of all species and of humanity itself is being cut off.  That, as James Hansen, the world’s leading climatologist puts it, this is “our last chance to save humanity.”  And that none of the governments in the rich economies are doing anything at all about it!  That oil companies and coal companies are more important to those in power than the planet itself.
  • We know that the United States and its allies have been engaged recently in wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya.  That an intervention is being planned for Iran, and possibly Venezuela.  That U.S. military bases dot the entire globe and are increasing in numbers.  We know that the United States spends around half a billion dollars officially on the military each year, and in reality a trillion dollars a year.
  • We know that we live in a plutocracy rather than a democracy, where money outvotes public opinion at every point in the political process.
  • We know that unions are in the defensive in this country.  That they have been smashed by unfair legislation.  That they are struggling to find a way to fight back.
  • We know that our elementary and secondary educations system in the United States is being privatized and destroyed.
  • We know that we have by far the highest rate of incarceration in the world.
  • We know that all of this is related to the system of economic power, to a society that believes in the Wall Street principle, “greed is good,” the signature of capitalism.
  • We know that we are the necessary, the last defense of humanity.  That you are the world’s 99%.  That we will not “thin out” when the weather gets bad.  That we are not a mob.  That we are the earth, we are democracy, we are the future.  The world has been occupied too long by a tiny minority.  It is time for the people to reoccupy it.  To take it back.

In 2009, I participated in a discussion about the global financial crisis on Democracy Now!  I said then that we were in a period of long-term economic stagnation (of which the financial crisis was simply a symptom).  The closest historical precedent was the Great Depression.  I pointed out that it took about four years after the 1929 stock market crash before there was a revolt in the United States in the 1930s — what we know as the Great Revolt from Below — which resulted in the industrial union movement, the rise of the CIO, and the second New Deal.  The revolt didn’t come in earnest until a year or more after the economic recovery had started in 1933, when people suddenly realized that the recovery was false.

I said that a similar Great Revolt from Below was likely in the United States today, given a deep and lasting economic stagnation.  But that we might have to wait three or four years, just as in the Great Depression, for it to get off the ground, and for the people to ignite.  That, just as in the Great Depression, the revolt would not materialize until people had learned that the promise of economic recovery was false, that they had been lied to and systematically robbed.  Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Eugene, Occupy the United States is the Great Revolt from Below in our time.

But what we are witnessing this time is the growth of something much larger still.  In a matter of a few weeks we have watched the emergence of an Occupy the World movement.  Everywhere people are uniting in struggle.  When I was in Australia at the beginning of October, when this all was getting started, radical activists were absolutely glued to the events in Occupy Wall Street — even before it was being reported by the mainstream media in this country.  Why?  Australia is on the other side of the globe.  Why should they care about a resistance movement in New York?

The reason is that we in the United States live in “Fortress America,” the heart of a world empire.  Revolts are not supposed to happen here!  If a break in the wall appears, if massive protests occur, here, “Inside the Monster,” as José Marti called it, the whole world is suddenly uplifted and encouraged to resist.  Because then they know that the empire is crumbling.  Our struggles here are opening up space for resistance for all the people of the world.

What does occupy mean?  Why is an occupation so important?  Why is this movement so different?  It is because it means we are not going away.  We will not disperse.  We will remain.  We will win.  The world requires it.

Thank you.

John Bellamy Foster is the editor of Monthly Review.  He is the author of What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know about Capitalism (with Fred Magdoff), The Ecological Rift, The Ecological Revolution, The Great Financial Crisis, Marx’s Ecology, Ecology against Capitalism, and The Vulnerable Planet

| Print