“None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
This is the common rhetoric voiced at the Occupy Wall Street Movement which begun September 17th, 2011. It has since migrated and picked up massive amounts of support across the nation and the world to cities such as: Boston, San Diego, North Carolina, Washington DC, Salt Lake City, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, Nashville, and Toronto; to countries such as: London, Ireland, Portugal, Greece, Australia, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Austria, and Germany – and many more with each passing day. After and continuing to personally attend this mass movement, Occupy Wall Street truly encompasses a wide variety of issues many of which range from deep-seeded long-term issues to more recent disasters such as the economic collapse of 2008. Generally speaking, they vary on numerous topics, from our diminishing education funds, to rising healthcare costs due to increasing privatization; from deteriorating living conditions on massive scales, to increasing unemployment rates; from our collapsing infrastructure of our highways, trains and bridges, to our exponentially increasing spending rates on our “defense budget.” I will do my best to not marginalize the movement, but rather give an in-depth analysis of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
What exactly is Occupy Wall Street? Simply put, when we take a closer at everything, we realize that each one of our lives, even life itself, is a commodity. Society has confined, condensed and commoditized the value and worth of each individual into a simple price tag. Economic transactions no longer define what we are, but who we are as well. The vehicle you purchase and drive now apparently represents who you attempt to show others. The apartment or house in which you invest now apparently reflects your personality. And the clothes you buy and wear, or the food you purchase and eat are all now apparently indicative of your priorities. One can apparently even place a price tag on the life of another by merely filing a lawsuit to financially compensate for all damages (who says money can’t buy love these days?). This movement seeks to correct this lifestyle which has otherwise been exploited and corrupted by businesses and a corporate-backed banking system that aim to progress only their own agendas at the cost of the people. We are tired and disgusted with how corporations continue to take profit over people.
The next question then is who exactly is Occupy Wall Street? Contrary to popular belief, especially to what numerous mass media outlets have attempted to portray, there exists no individual leader for Occupy Wall Street. There is no Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. leading the way; there is no Mahatma Gandhi guiding the nation; there is no Ernesto “Ché” Guevara rallying the people. The only one trait that is “individual” about us is that we, the people, stand together as a singularity as a testament to the fact that our movement does not revolve around a single entity much like how many of our everyday lives are structured. The people of this movement are not just a bunch of tree-hugging hippies, disgruntled college students complaining about the rising costs of tuition, or a bunch of psychologically damaged homeless people who retain no clue about how these establishments are run – although this movement DOES advocate for all of them and more. We are the people: doctors, nurses, teachers, construction workers, electricians, store workers, managers, consultants, truck drivers, engineers, plumbers, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, even soldiers – we are the blood, sweat and tears of our nation, we are the backbones of this country who have built and continue to keep this nation running.
Let us also make one more point crystal clear: this is NOT anti-America; if anything, this movement and protest is 100% pure American. This nation was supposedly founded upon and prides itself upon freedom of speech found in the First Amendment of the Constitution. Remember how America obtained its independence: through their voice and actions. It would be contradictory against America itself for anyone or anything to label it un-American or unconstitutional. Rather, Occupy Wall Street is anti-corporation, particularly anti-banks and anti-corporate run governments who control this nation at the great expense of its people. We aim to, at the very least, hold those responsible for the economic collapse of 2008 accountable for their actions.
The economic collapse of 2008, whose aliases include the financial crisis of 2008, or the sub-prime mortgage crisis, led to our current economic downturn in the world. But in what ways does this have any connection with the Occupy Wall Street movement? It has EVERYTHING to do with it. Herein lays the first injustice: according to http://aim.org, around the turn of the century, banks and mortgage firms, such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, eased their credit requirements on their loans at the request of the Clinton administration (the reasons for the Clinton and all other administrations for easing government regulations on businesses will be further highlighted in this article). A mortgage is a fancy name for a loan for a home. They had even gone so far as to not ask for a down payment on any loan or even have any legitimate verification of any income or assets. Additionally, word on the financial market at the time was that property was the number one investment for anyone’s portfolio. Couple all these factors together and you witness this mass movement on the housing market. For instance, although slightly exaggerated, the average Joe was buying a $200,000 home with terrible or no credit and with no down payment on the mortgage while only making perhaps $25,000-$30,000 per year – all the while, the banks were approving it despite going against standard regulation and basic common sense; however, this was all part of their plans to make a quick buck.
See, banks and mortgage firms such as Goldman Sachs and Freddie Mae and Freddie Mac would then take these mortgages and group them as “securities,” and these securities would then be traded among investors on Wall Street – in other words, they essentially traded a loan as if it was a commodity. The value of property continued to increase and investors kept making money off of these projected values – NOT real values – until around 2005 and 2006 when the prices of homes peaked. This created a problem because the vast majority of homeowners could not pay their mortgages and therefore could not back up any of these projected or even real values of their homes. Additionally, the banks and mortgage firms could not pay them off either because the homeowners were not paying them. As a result, homes were foreclosed, and banks and mortgage firms declared bankruptcy on a massive scale at an incredibly fast rate.
Herein lays the second injustice: next, the government decided to bailout these banks and mortgage firms. According to http://propublica.org:
- Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac received $200 billion USD in bailout money.
- American International Group (AIG) received $180 billion USD in bailout money.
- Goldman Sachs received $12.9 billion USD in bailout money.
- Citigroup received $280 billion USD in bailout money.
- Bank of America received $142.2 billion USD in bailout money.
The list goes on and on…but I presume you get the picture.
Where did the government get all this money? Well it could not afford to print out more and it would have been ludicrous to ask government officials to pay all this off with their own money. So, you guessed it; herein lays the third injustice: the money came from the people. According to http://pewtrust.org it cost:
- An average of $5,800 USD loss of income per household; or a total of $648 billion USD.
- An average of $2,050 USD per household to fund the government response organization TARP; or a total of $73 billion USD.
- An average of $30,300 USD loss of value per household; and nearly one million foreclosed homes in the third fiscal quarter of 2009.
- An average of $66,200 USD loss of stock value per household; or approximately $7.4 trillion USD in stock wealth.
- Approximately 5.5 million lost jobs.
Again, the list goes on and on…but again I presume you get the picture.
Not only did this bailout cost the people billions of dollars, but it also cost us our lives and our simple essences of livelihood itself. Our survival unfortunately is so dependent, if not entirely, upon these financial institutions and systems that regulate our lives. In order to get food, we need to pay money for it; in order to get water, we need to pay money for it; in order to pay for heating, we need to pay money for it – minus the select few who can produce and sustain themselves independently.
So the questions the Occupy Wall Street movement asks, or even the average person asks following this meltdown, are nothing short of reasonable: How could this happen? How can the government expect us to bailout the financial institutions that caused this mess in the first place? Why did the banks receive these generous bailout while the people were hung out to dry? Who is REALLY responsible? We must first turn our attentions to the banks and corporations, but as we look closer into these corporations, we see the true nature by which they operate and advance their agendas.
In politics and governments in general, we have something called “special interest groups” – or basically corporations and organizations – that lobby, or legally bribe with money, officials to persuade them into either making a decision or not making a decision. Herein lays the fourth injustice: it has become quite clear, especially following the economic collapse of 2008, that these corporations and organizations take precedence over the people and that our governments are too easily influenced by them. Let us take a look at our good friends at Goldman Sachs, an investment banking and securities firm and one of the biggest contributors to the economic collapse of 2008; according to http://newint.org:
- Goldman Sachs uses something called derivatives – basically projected values, NOT true values – to otherwise mask the true value, or lack thereof, of an investment, which they pass off as some form of regulation to the government.
- The government accepts these complicated and bogus forms of regulations because numerous banking lobbyists like Goldman Sachs have been pushing to get rid of strict regulations since the early 1990s. Between 1998 and 2008, they have spent approximately $3.4 billion USD to push for derivative banking and deregulation.
- Take Goldman Sachs and add them together with dozens of other banks, investment and securities firms; then multiply all this money by the millions, if not billions or even trillions.
- The result = these banks took many high risks with the money of the people with little to no restriction from the governments. Then the economic collapse of 2008 occurred from their reckless greed.
And it’s not just the banks that have a special interest in getting what they want by bribing or paying off the government at the cost of the people. Let us take a look at the tobacco lobbyist British American Tobacco (BAT); again according to http://newint.org:
- In 1995, British American Tobacco began working closely with pharmaceutical companies to lessen the health restrictions placed on them by the government – because hey, tobacco and cigarettes are too healthy as is, killing over 5 million people per year.
- British American Tobacco then began working closely with the European Policy Centre, a think tank organization, which acted as a “neutral” front for the BAT – a think tank is a research organization hired to solve complex problems and to predict or plan future developments.
- The European Policy Centre, of course on behalf of the BAT, convinced the government that the risk of costs to businesses is a greater concern than the assessment of health impacts on the people.
- Now there exist even less restrictions from the government which are intended to protect public health.
For even more examples of how corporate lobbying has and continues to take over our governments, from the arms industry with lobbyists like BAE to the food industry with lobbyists like the CIAA, check out the article “The best influence money can buy – the 10 Worst Corporate Lobbyists” by Helen Burley, Oliver Hoedeman, and Donough O’Malley – http://www.newint.org/features/2011/01/01/10-worst-corporate-lobbyists/ ; remember, Google is also your friend in this case.
The Occupy Wall Street movement is fed up with government serving the interests of the banks and corporations who lobby for their agenda with little regard to the interest of the people. We see that governments do NOT serve the interests of the people, that governments do NOT represent the people – that governments only serve the interests of the CORPORATIONS, that governments only represent the CORPORATIONS.
Now there exists a shift of the people, to use their own powers and their own innate rights to bring about change and reformation, to pick ourselves back up and clean up the mess we partially made from the economic collapse of 2008, and to hold the top 1% who hold 42% of the financial wealth in this country responsible for their actions.
Capitalism and democracy can never go together – such combination is a paradox. “If true capitalism were in place, wouldn’t these banks be allowed to fail? What we have is crony capitalism.” – @AnonyOps. This is not democracy. Our governments do not fully represent us. This is what we call a corporatocracy.
What is our one demand?
We want our nation back. We are Occupy Wall Street. We are the 99%.
Beaumount, Thomas, Karen Mracek. “Goldman Reveals Where Bailout Cash Went.” USA Today 26 Aug 2010. n. pag. Web. 12 Oct. 2011. <http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/banking/2010-07-24-goldman-bailout-cash_N.htm>.
Blodget, Henry. “CHARTS: Here’s What The Wall Street Protesters Are So Angry About….” Business Insider. 11 Oct 2011: n. page. Web. 13 Oct. 2011. <http://www.businessinsider.com/what-wall-street-protesters-are-so-angry-about-2011-10>.
Burley, Helen, Olivier Hoedeman. “The Best Influence Money Can Buy – The 10 Worst Corporate Lobbyists.” New Internationalist Magazine. 01 Jan 2011: n. page. Web. 12 Oct. 2011. <http://www.newint.org/features/2011/01/01/10-worst-corporate-lobbyists/>.
Davis, James F. “The Cause of the 2008 Financial Crisis.” Accuracy in Media. 14 Oct 2008: n. page. Web. 12 Oct. 2011. <http://www.aim.org/guest-column/the-cause-of-the-2008-financial-crisis/>.
Kjellman, Krista, Scott Klein, Jesse Nankin, Eric Umansky. “History of U.S. Gov’t Bailouts.” ProPublica. (2009): n. page. Web. 12 Oct. 2011. <http://www.propublica.org/special/government-bailouts>.
Sabolich, Michelle. “Foreclosure Activity Hits Record High in Third Quarter.” RealtyTrac 15 Oct 2009. n. pag. RealtyTrac. Web. 12 Oct 2011. <http://www.realtytrac.com/foreclosure/foreclosure-rates.html>.
Schaeffer, Michael. “Thieving Financial Institutions Were Bailed Out Four Times in 2008: an Outline of the Four Bailouts.” The Activists. 10 Oct 2011. Web. 12 Oct. 2011. <http://theactivists.wordpress.com/2011/10/10/thieving-financial-institutions-were-bailed-out-four-times-in-2008-an-outline-of-the-four-bailouts/>.
“The Impact of the September 2008 Economic Collapse.” Pew Charitable Trusts. 28 Apr 2010: n. page. Web. 12 Oct. 2011. <http://www.pewtrusts.org/our_work_report_detail.aspx?id=58695>.
“Why?.” OccupyWallStreet. 12 Sep 2011. Web. 12 Oct. 2011. <http://occupywallst.org/>.