Brian Goldman | Occupying ‘Occupy Wall Street’

The Gold Standard | Penn professors’ open letter misguides the aim of the protests

· October 16, 2011, 11:46 pm   ·  Updated October 17, 2011, 1:29 pm

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Brian Goldman
The Gold Standard

Occupy Wall Street is the embodiment of an organic political movement that a free society encourages. But what is it really about? It seems, at least superficially, to be ignited from the collusion of big government and corporations, especially in the wake of bailouts, a sluggish economy and stalled recovery.

But if you happened to read English professor Ania Loomba’s open letter supporting the Occupy movement, a letter that was co-signed by 87 faculty members primarily from humanities departments, you might be confused as to what Occupy Wall Street stands for.

According to Loomba, Occupy Wall Street encompasses the anti-war movement and domestic infrastructure concerns; opposes Medicaid and Social Security reform; stands by unions and, of course, vehemently opposes any semblance of corporate welfare or bailouts.

However, I think we need to recognize and separate two mutually exclusive movements here. There’s the Occupy movement, growing city by city and (recently) worldwide, and Loomba and her colleagues’ political beliefs, which they tried to superimpose on a movement that is special exactly because it isn’t defined by such rigid ideology.

There are murmurs of different goals at various Occupy protests around the globe. At the site of the original protest, Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan, Stephen Schlesinger of The Huffington Post pointed to “jobs, jobs, jobs” — or lack thereof — as the main gripe for protesters. The Chicago Tribune reports that one of the most oft-repeated goals of Occupy Chicago is for a repeal of the 2001 and 2003 Bush-era tax cuts. Right here in Occupy Philadelphia, the 27th Ward for the Democratic Executive Committee (which includes Penn’s campus) drafted a resolution supporting the movement and highlighted “financial-sector misconduct” as giving rise to the protests.

All of these goals, despite being somewhat varied, fall under the same general umbrella; grievances regarding the political power and influence that the corporate financial sector wields at the expense of the “99 percent.”

So where did the laundry list of grievances that Loomba and dozens of other faculty members aired in their open letter come from? Thin air, evidently.

Sure, individual protesters certainly have their own personal goals and political aims. But what protest are Loomba and her colleagues joining when they say, “We join Occupy Wall Street in calling for urgent action to protect Social Security … We also join the protesters in decrying the disastrous effects of … unjustified wars?”

Even David Axelrod, who appeared sympathetic to the Occupy movement on ABC’s This Week reiterated the notion that Occupy is a protest centered on the financial sector and the economy and not on wars and entitlement programs. As he put it, the demonstrations show that Americans “want a financial system that works.”

Take a look online yourself. You would be hard-pressed to find any semblance of foreign policy or domestic welfare grievances at the heart of any Occupy (fill in city) protest.

Even the “99 percent” notion that Loomba invoked, and has been invoked at many Occupy sites, is a reference to a study done by economist Joseph Stiglitz that reveals that 1 percent of the country controls 40 percent of America’s wealth. Occupy Wall Street is a movement spurred by financial distress, perceived economic injustices and the growing power of corporate influence on American politics.

It is not a whiteboard for grievances across the political spectrum, despite Penn professors who may wish it was. In fact, attempting to correlate a vast number of unrelated grievances with a movement that has a readily apparent cause and mission dilutes the movement itself. Former President Bill Clinton underscored this notion when he stated that while Occupy Wall Street is a “positive thing,” the protesters need to avoid addressing an exhaustive, unconnected list of concerns and “transfer their energies at some point to making some specific suggestions.”

There’s a certain irony to the idea that Penn professors would try hijacking a movement to us as a conduit for their own political goals. The Occupy movement was spurred in part by a perception of greed in corporate offices across the world. Perhaps Occupy Wall Street will turn next on similarly greedy crowd that attempted to use the movement’s success as a vehicle for their own political wish list.

Brian Goldman is a College senior from Queens, N.Y. His email address is briangol@sas.upenn.edu. The Gold Standard appears every Monday.

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