Market Overview

Prologue Protests: Get Ready for an American Spring

One year after the Egyptian Revolution, in light of the revolutionary wave in the Middle East known as the "Arab Spring", might there be an "American Spring" around the corner in 2012? Given recent developments, struggling economic conditions, and recurring political rhetoric in the news, an American Spring appears to be fast approaching.

Any future American Spring may have found a wintry prologue in the protesters of Occupy Oakland. On Saturday, the Associated Press reported that "Oakland police used tear gas and 'flash' grenades...to break up hundreds of Occupy protesters after some demonstrators started throwing rocks and flare at officer and tearing down fencing." Saturday evening, AP reported that three officers were injured and 19 protesters were arrested in the commotion. Associated Press: "Police said the group started assembling at a downtown plaza Saturday morning, with demonstrators threatening to take over the vacant Henry Kaiser Convention Center. The group then marched through the streets, disrupting traffic." The crowd's number ranged from about 1,000 to 2,000 individuals.

Contra Costa Times reported that the protesters planned on entering the vacant convention center in Oakland to use as a headquarters for the movement. According to Contra Costa Times, in order to deal with the protesters "Oakland police have called for mutual aid. Around 6:30 p.m., police ordered protesters to disperse and those who remained were arrested, with some hiding in the YMCA building." An update to the story reported that the day of skirmishes with the Occupy movement ended with 200 arrests; LA Times is reporting that there were 300 arrests. According to the LA Times, Occupy protesters in Oakland on Saturday eventually broke into the City Hall building and set an American flag on fire in the protests.

As for what Saturday's Occupy Oakland incident may portend going into the spring, Adbusters, the group that inspired the Occupy Wall Street movement, is calling for protesters to gather May 1, 2012 in Chicago to protest the G8 and NATO summit. Adbusters: "The world's military and political elites, heads of state, 7,500 officials from 80 nations, and more than 2,500 journalists will be there. And so will we." Adbusters suggests that "50,000 people from all over the world will flock to Chicago" on May 1, 2012 with tents in hand to occupy the "biggest multinational occupation of a summit meeting the world has ever seen."

Adbusters hearkened to the spirit of the Democratic National Convention protests in Chicago, 1968. According to the blog post, protesters will demand a Robin Hood tax, a ban on flash trading, "a binding climate change accord", stiffer penalties for "corporate criminals", and a plan for a "nuclear-free Middle East" among other things. Adbusters: "And if they don't listen ... if they ignore us and put our demands on the back burner like they've done so many times before ... then, with Gandhian ferocity, we'll flashmob the streets, shut down stock exchanges, campuses, corporate headquarters and cities across the globe ... we'll make the price of doing business as usual too much to bear."

Commenting on Adbusters' call to protesters, conservative-leaning CNSNews.com's Paul Wilson wrote that "the same group that called for the Occupy Wall Street protests in the first place is now calling for [protesters] to shut down the entire economic system of a city if their demands are not met, in the tradition of people who brought us the 1968 Democratic convention riots." Wilson added, "The claim that the Occupy Movement is composed of peaceful [protesters] seeking constructive and meaningful change stopped being credible long ago."

Readers may recall my discussion from mid-November regarding Occupy Wall Street's November 17 Day of Action where the movement planned on shutting down the New York Stock Exchange -- even delaying the ringing of the opening bell. Despite Occupy's protests, the opening bell rang nonetheless. In that spirit, I noted that "in order for Occupy Wall Street to have maintained power and credibility behind its claims going forward, it was essential for Occupy Wall Street to delay the opening bell...by any non-violent means necessary." As Occupy Wall Street faced mass arrests and dispersal from the parks in which the protesters settled, it appeared that the movement was facing its own Waterloo. Even since the November 17 Day of Action, aside from various minor protests across the country (including those at the campaign stops of Republican presidential candidates, the movement has received little attention in the media. This raises the question: Does the Occupy phenomenon remain a viable movement?

On the topic of the viability of the Occupy movement, Marketplace's Kai Ryssdal recently interviewed two activists, one from the Egyptian protests named Ahmed Naguib and one from Occupy Wall Street named Tammy Shapiro, on connections between the two movements. Commenting on the Arab Spring in light of Occupy demonstrations that occurred across the world, the Egyptian protester said, "I believe our generation is all about change." Naguib added, "In essence we're all after the same thing. You know, those bankers and politicians that failed us and have increased the margins of poverty all around the world -- we need to fix that system." Even though many in the US are financially struggling, Shapiro noted that the Occupy movement faces significant challenges in that while many are struggling, many in the US are still "doing [okay]". Shapiro added that "a lot of people need to get to desperation before they're willing to stand up and put everything on the line."

Whereas media attention of the Occupy movement has waned, on Dec. 31, 2011 Huffington Post's Sarah van Gelder wrote in an article entitled "12 Most Hopeful Trends to Build on in 2012" that the Occupy movement's uprising "is the biggest reason for hope in 2012". Van Gelder: "After the winter weather subsides, look for the blossoming of an American Spring." From van Gelder's perspective, Americans are gaining consciousness in that the system is broken: "The 1 percent have rigged the system to capture a larger and larger share of the world's wealth and power, while the middle class and poor face unemployment, soaring student debt burdens, homelessness, exclusion from the medical system and the disappearance of retirement savings." Thus, owing in part to the Occupy movement, van Gelder concluded that "2012 will be a year of transformation and rebuilding -- this time, with the well-being of all life front and center."

According to the Washington Times, on Jan. 5, 2012 "Occupy Washington, DC (at Freedom Plaza) announced...that it is expanding its efforts this winter and building toward a massive 'American Spring'." On Jan. 24, 2012, Salon discussed the a new video series on America's unemployed noting that "Salon is committed to telling the story of the unemployed as part of the American Spring." While commenting on an article from MSNBC.com from Jan. 18, 2012, "Anonymous Economist" mentioned that the "American Spring is only 2.5 months away" -- suggesting that the American Spring would begin in early April.

While many struggling Americans may be looking forward to an American Spring as opportunity to voice concern and protest, it is uncertain what the future will hold for the Occupy movement. Some conservative commentators suggest that protesters are without leaders and direction and are merely whining. That being the case, the Occupy movement is finding strength in the fact that the US economic situation becomes more and more precarious. Whereas one's opinion of the Occupy movement may depend on one's political persuasion or perspective, it seems that a portion of the country is awakening to a new sense of consciousness regarding the economic standing of American society. In taking a look at global youth unemployment, income inequality, ideological strife, and financial grief, it makes sense that such movements will come about.

I recently discussed the topic of class consciousness with respect to evolving attitudes towards globalized capitalism. In this light, the Occupy movement appears to be a symptom of the fact that on a global level the capitalist superstructure is being questioned and reevaluated. From reading various articles from Adbusters Magazine, whereas some commentators may be quick to criticize the Occupy movement for not having any specific policy demands, perhaps the intent of the movement is not about suggesting or promoting demands -- but rather bringing about an emerging sense of class consciousness to the status quo. In this way, the Occupy movement is not so much a loudspeaker with a precise message or vision of the future, but a ringing bell or a horn -- calling individuals to a greater sense of class consciousness in the contemporary global economy. Perhaps the hidden message of the Occupy movement goes deeper than the contemporary political context with its division of red and blue.

To be fair, the lack of a diversified number of viable political parties in the US may be a substantial part of the problem. Whereas Americans are given an electoral choice of only two parties...that, for all intents and purposes, appear to be very similar in their approach to dealing with the status quo, perhaps the Tea Party and the Occupy movement are ways that the American populace is crying out for more practical alternatives. If the US had a more comfortable multiparty system with five or six political parties (as they do in Europe) representing a range of interests in American politics, one has to wonder if the Tea Party or the Occupy movement would have ever come about in the first place! Given economic issues and changing demographics, perhaps a departure from the two-party system should be considered, encouraged, and permitted. In a word, demanded on regional and national levels. As in European countries, we could have five political parties: a far-left ecologically-minded political party, a moderate left social-democratic political party, a centrist political party, a moderate religiously-minded right political party, and a more libertarian, free-market right political party. I realize that such an idea may sound impractical right now, but with the way things are today, oftentimes even with the symbol "D" or "R" next to his or her name it remains unclear where individuals stand ideologically. In any event, as things stand now, it is as if we are seeing various "tendencies" spring up between both political parties, e.g. the Tea Party, the Occupy movement, neoconservative Democrats, libertarian Republicans -- leading to considerable divisions in both the Republican and Democratic parties.

Whereas a multiparty system does not guarantee political functionality in government, at the very least, such a system would hopefully work to have more voices in government -- thereby representing a range of interests. Indeed, one may ponder that part of the reason the Occupy movement is acting the way it is is owing to the fact that no one appears to be listening to protesters; Adbusters has suggested that many are getting tired of a Coke versus Pepsi option when it comes to political ideologies. Were more political factions to enter the scene thereby providing American citizens with a range of ideological options, perhaps the populace would feel that it has a greater voice in American politics.

Whereas the Occupy movement is currently in hibernation, one has to wonder what an American Spring would entail -- especially in light of the recent developments at Occupy Oakland. Nevertheless, in taking into account my previous discussion on economic superstructures through history, even if this most recent incident with Occupy Oakland is a historical prologue to the American Spring, a peaceful, genuine, culturally-enlightening American Spring may end up merely being a historical prologue to something else...something greater. In a time period where many view the current economic system as unjust and failing and perceive the current political system as being fundamentally broken, we have to have hope.

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