The Occupy movement isn’t going away, it’s going online

Posted on November 18, 2011 in Equality Debates

Source: — Authors: – business
Published On Fri Nov 18 2011.   By David Olive, Business Columnist

You say how did it happen / And you say how did it start /…But the hands of the have-nots / Keep falling out of reach.

Gordon Lightfoot, Black Day in July (1968)

For two months the Occupy movement has been saying its piece: Close the yawning gap between the super-rich and the rest of us. Clear the malefactors of wealth from the temple. And restore the value of “people” votes over those cast by big-money lobbyists.The leadership class has responded: Shut up. Go home.

Evictions of Occupy encampments across North America swung into high gear this week. It is a moment that denialists have long awaited. “For those of us who don’t live near one of the protest sites, Occupy Wall Street supplied some comic relief,” Ed Rogers wrote in the Washington Post this week. “But they were never destined to survive the onset of inclement weather. Good riddance.”

Hold on. It’s riot police acting on instruction of civic officials who are ending the encampments, not looming hypothermia. As it happens, plenty of Occupiers are ready to move on, having forced their message onto the global agenda. News media mentions of “income inequality” have surged 500 per cent since the Occupy movement began just two months ago.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said our pre-eminent troubadour Lightfoot during a visit to see his 17-year-old daughter, Meredith, at Occupy Toronto’s encampment at St. James Park. “There’s an urgent need that prevails all over North America.”

It’s a worldwide movement, of course. Occupy branches have sprung up in scores of countries and more than 1,000 Canadian and U.S. cities since the first protest Sept. 17.

And it’s not going away. It’s going online, as the Arab Spring organizers did. Occupy has boundless opportunities to keep making its point, with rallies, marches, petitions, demos and sit-ins.

The Occupier grievances are real and widely felt. An intolerable 1.3 million Canadians are without work. Twenty-six million Americans are unemployed, under-employed, or have given up looking for work. In both countries, middle-class incomes have stagnated even as living costs – for rent, tuition, fuel – have skyrocketed.

And the current, gross disparity in wealth matches that of gilded ages past. Progressive movements arose in each case to restore balance and a measure of economic fairness.

“Since 1959, wages as a percentage of GDP have fallen from 51 per cent to 44%,” notes Morgan Housel of Motley Fool, the online investing site. “That shift is huge. If wages as a percentage of GDP were at the same level today as in 1959, workers would earn over $1 trillion a year more than they currently do. A lot of that money has instead found its way into corporate profits, which have increased from 6 per cent of GDP in 1959 to almost 10 per cent today.”

Canada, eight times cited by the U.N. as boasting the world’s highest quality of living, now ranks sixth. More disturbing, the rate at which Canada is improving its performance on the three chief criteria of the U.N.’s Human Development Index – health, education and income – has for the past decade lagged that of its G-7 peers apart from the U.S.

The Occupy movement appeals to a remarkably wide range of interests. Youth, and especially university students, are the public face of the movement. But academics, economists, labour and church leaders and the existing army of social-justice activists quickly signed on. Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel laureate economist, has visited Occupy sites from Tunis to Washington. He wrote this week that “Social protest has found fertile ground everywhere: a sense that the ‘system’ has failed, and the conviction that even in a democracy, the electoral process will not set things right.”

Vincent Mosco, a professor emeritus in sociology at Queen’s University who has been studying social movements since the 1960s protests against the Vietnam War, marvels at the “extraordinary” coalition forged by the Occupiers. “When you see trade unionists, students, minority groups and others coming together, locking arms across sites in North America, what we have here is something unprecedented, at least in modern memory,” Mosco told Canadian Press this week.

Attempts to muzzle the Occupiers have failed, and that will continue. The Vatican, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of Canada, have endorsed the Occupy movement. But not Stephen Harper. Stating the obvious, Nycole Turmel, interim NDP leader, said, “The Occupy movement is denouncing economic disparity. People are fed up and they decided to act.” To which the PM’s response was that the Official Opposition is fixated with the Occupy movement (that’s not true of anyone in Ottawa, actually) and that the NDP “is totally unfit to govern or even comment on job creation.

That was akin to an earlier Vatican’s futile reaction to Galileo, to rule the truth out of order. It’s not that the Establishment doesn’t get it. It doesn’t want to.

Heralding a new progressive era, after 40 years in which U.S. spending on social programs and infrastructure will fall from 5 per cent to a projected 2 per cent in 2020, economist Jeffrey Sachs anticipates “a new generation of politicians [who] will prove that they can win on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and blog sites, rather than with corporate-financed TV ads. By lowering the cost of political campaigning, the free social media can liberate Washington from the current state of endemic corruption.” Holding the high ground, such public figures will be “well-positioned to call out their opponents who are on the corporate take.”

A new progressivism promises to be a lengthy struggle. Restoring power and prosperity to the 99 per cent has echoes in earlier progressive movements, which took two decades to end the industrial monopolies, child labour and other abuses of the first Gilded Age, in the late 19th century.

The latest progressive era should, Sachs says, focus on three things, starting with “A revival of crucial public services, especially education, training, public investment and environment protection.

“The second is the end of a climate of impunity that encouraged nearly every Wall Street firm to commit financial fraud. The third is to re-establish the supremacy of people votes over dollar votes” in government.

In 1968, Top-40 radio stations in more than 30 U.S. states banned Lightfoot’s Black Day in July, fearing its depiction of the 1967 conflagration in Detroit would incite more riots. But the civil-rights movement and the parallel protests against the Vietnam War continued apace. Getting in the way of overdue change is a fool’s errand.

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