The wannabe tyrants of Wall Street
Disdainful and conspiracy-minded, the protesters claiming to speak for all Americans are acting like teenage despots.
The Occupy Wall Street campaigners sure have a lot of attitude. Like self-victimising teenage tyrants, the protesters camped out in New York’s financial district for the past three weeks have spent much of that time complaining that nobody is paying attention to them, that they’re being bullied and that, when it comes to America’s future, it’s their way or the highway.
From the outset, the protesters complained about a ‘media blackout’ and ‘police brutality’. So keen are they to put themselves on a par with the revolts in the Arab world that they have convinced themselves that the US media is being kept away from the scene by powerful forces and that the cops are on standby for violent clampdowns on a regime-threatening protest movement.
True, the relatively small-scale protests have not warranted the NYPD’s ridiculously large deployments, and the cops’ nervous reactions have added fuel to the protesters’ victim-image. But it’s hardly been brutal. And contrary to the complaints of a lack of attention, no follower of the American ‘mainstream media’ could have avoided news of the protests in the past few weeks. A Google search on the very first day of the Wall Street Occupation (Saturday 17 September) brought up coverage from the New York Times, ABC, MSNBC, CBS, Fox and more.
Certainly, the media attention has not matched the protesters’ overblown sense of self-importance – that would be an impossible feat. Sure, the protest is gaining some momentum. There have been a number of copycat protests in other American cities and a march on Brooklyn Bridge last weekend led to hundreds of arrests. This was after a video of a policeman dousing two protesters in pepper spray went viral and garnered sympathy for the protesters. On Wednesday, several prominent unions announced their solidarity and marched together with the Occupy Wall Street movement. The demonstration attracted thousands. It was the biggest turnout so far.
Yet despite this dramatic scenery (widely covered by the mainstream press, one might add), what of the protesters’ slogan that ‘we are the 99 per cent’? Like any mantra, the more they repeat it, the more convinced they are that it is the truth. But in fact, this is simply the oldest despotic trick in the book: to take it upon yourself to define the interests of all citizens and then declare yourself their righteous protector.
The so-called General Assembly set up by campaign organisers issues decrees agreed on by whatever group of right-on radicals happens to be around at the time of the meetings in the Financial District. This is a ‘leaderless protest movement’, but those involved apparently see themselves as patrons of simpletons. ‘The working class in this country has been brainwashed by MSM, Fox News, and the right-wing propaganda machine’, says one writer on the protest movement’s website. ‘We need to de-programme people against the brainwashing they’ve experienced.’
In other words, the ‘99 per cent’ don’t know what’s good for them. Enter the MacBook-armed, middle-class warriors who want their student debt cancelled. Whether you know – or like – it or not, they know what you need. And anyone who doesn’t get their multifarious point has, we are told, clearly been brainwashed into robotic compliance with a society based on mass consumption.
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To be fair, it really is difficult to grasp the protesters’ point. Since they have a commitment to drawing up endless lists of grievances (for instance the Declaration of the Occupation of New York City lists over 20 complaints and has a footnote that says ‘These grievances are not all-inclusive’), the protesters’ aims are indeed confounding. From the death penalty to the environment, from the arms trade to healthcare – the Wall Street Occupation has become a Movement Against Everything.
Rather than seeing their lack of coherence as a limitation, the protesters embrace it as a new form of enlightened ‘direct democracy’. Also, it allows the protesters to refuse to be held accountable for each others’ views. Instead, when one person uses the protest movement’s platform to insult the entire American working class, another can just turn around and say it’s ‘not representative of the whole’.
One recurring view, however, is that Everything is the Corporations’ fault – it’s that one per cent steering every element of society to their own advantage. Not only are corporations ‘holding students hostage’ with thousands of dollars in debt, they have also ‘perpetuated inequality in the workplace’, ‘poisoned the food supply’ and profited from animal torture. In the conspiratorial saga conjured up by the anti-capitalist Wall Street protesters, The Corporation is a faceless, evil force that puppeteers the government, citizens, the media, the legal system and just about any other social force.
The protesters’ wild imagination about the octopus-like Corporation spreading its tentacles into every sphere of life indicates that they have little belief in human agency. Instead we’re all in the grip of powerful forces and there’s little we can do about it. As one placard in Zuccotti Park read: ‘We are the stupid and ignorant nation.’ Thankfully, the Financial District campers have seen through the corporate BS and can now enlighten the rest of us.
For all their talk of anti-capitalism and promoting ‘workers’ solidarity’, the Wall Street protesters are only interested in commandeering the future of America according to their own narrow interests. And when the masses fail to join this attention-seeking movement, the new tyrants of Wall Street are not likely to be surprised: they’ll just figure it’s because Americans are in thrall of the Corporations.
Nathalie Rothschild is an international correspondent for spiked. Visit her personal website here.