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Cary Brunswick

October 8, 2011

Fear and frustration fuel the rise of Wall Street protests

What is it those protesters want, anyway? That's what many people are asking as the demonstrations using Wall Street as their evil icon continue to grow and spread, with rallies this weekend expected to be the largest yet.

The root of the discontent is so similar to that of the Arab Spring demonstrators, the new movement could be called the American Autumn.

While some organizing groups have compiled a lengthy list of grievances, generally they can be nutshelled as opposition to corporate greed and control over the government, joblessness, and the financial industry for being the spur for the economic crisis.

Occupy Wall Street initially was called for by Adbusters magazine, a political- and cultural-critique publication, best known for originating Buy Nothing Day on Black Fridays. Protests were set to begin Sept. 17 on Wall Street, when indeed some protesters did show up. But through social networking and the anger shared by so many toward corporate power, the demonstrations soon began to pick up steam.

Now, they are like a fast-moving train that won't be stopped any time soon. By Wednesday, several large unions had announced their support and willingness to join the demonstrations.

The anti-corporate sentiment has existed for decades, often surfacing over environmental issues when the "profits over people" mindset led to the unsafe release of pollution and disposal of toxins. To some extent, the government stepped in to help protect people, passing laws protecting the environment.

Government also has served as a protector concerning the health and safety of many products, prescription drugs and modes of transportation. History has shown that when left unfettered, corporations generally allow the profit motive to trump all else.

The latest chapter began on election night three years ago when Barack Obama declared that as a result of the vote, "change has come to America."

It hasn't.

Instead, corporate control of government has grown, best illustrated by the billions in taxpayer dollars turned over to banks and the financial industry after their practices crashed the national economy.

The last time the corporate fight was taken to the streets was in 1999 and 2000, when the anti-globalization movement sought to "agitate about the plight of the poor and `decadence' of the rich," as the Associated Press described what protesters were doing.

According to one of the protest organizers in 2000, institutions such as the World Bank and IMF "bail out" governments with debt and credit problems, but only those that agree to allow corporations free access to their countries' resources and labor. Many of the world's poorest nations suffered under IMF/World Bank programs through higher debt levels, more unemployment, worsened poverty and devastated environments.

In today's struggle, we just have to switch a few of the actors around. Now, we have the government bailing out corporations with debt and credit problems, while many of the nation's poorest people suffer under the corporate weight of more debt, unemployment, poverty and environmental issues.

As the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations spread, it will not take long for protests to be organized locally. Already a meeting was planned for Thursday in Cooperstown. One organizer told the Sustainable Otsego group this week that she hoped area residents would band "together to begin the steps to implement our own contribution to this revolution."

If all this still sounds too vague or abstract, try the following grievances approved by the General Assembly, a New York City organizer of Occupy Wall Street.

"¢ They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgages.

"¢ They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give executives exorbitant bonuses.

"¢ They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined farming through monopolization.

"¢ They have profited from the torture, confinement and cruel treatment of animals, and actively hide these practices.

"¢ They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions.

"¢ They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right.

"¢ They have consistently outsourced labor and used that as leverage to cut workers' health care and pay.

So, now that we know what protesters want, what are their chances for achieving even one goal? Within days, I believe they will have achieved enough to make the effort worthwhile by bringing the issues to the discussion table.

And who knows, Occupy Wall Street could be the start of a progressive grassroots movement focused on what most people need rather than what corporations and the wealthy want.

Cary Brunswick, of Oneonta, is a freelance writer and editor. He can be reached at brunswick@earthling.net.

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