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Occupation: Wall Street

india Updated: Oct 02, 2011 22:43 IST
The Guardian

Why are people occupying Wall Street? Why has the occupation - despite the latest police crackdown - sent out sparks across America, within days, inspiring hundreds of people to send pizzas, money, equipment and, now, to start their own movements called OccupyChicago, OccupyFlorida, OccupyDenver or OccupyLA?

There are obvious reasons. We are watching the beginnings of the defiant self-assertion of a new generation of Americans, a generation who are finishing their education with no jobs, no future, but still saddled with enormous, unforgivable debt. Most were of working-class or otherwise modest backgrounds, kids who did exactly what they were told they should: studied, got into college, and are now being humiliated - faced with a life as deadbeats, moral reprobates.

Is it really surprising they would like to have a word with the financial magnates who stole their future?

Just as in Europe, we are seeing the results of colossal social failure. The occupiers are the very sort of people whose energies a healthy society would be marshaling to improve life for everyone. Instead, they are using it to envision ways to bring the whole system down.

But the ultimate failure here is of imagination. What we are witnessing can also be seen as a demand to finally have a conversation we were all supposed to have back in 2008. Everything we'd been told for the last decade turned out to be a lie. Markets did not run themselves; creators of financial instruments were not infallible geniuses; and debts did not really need to be repaid - money itself was revealed to be a political instrument, trillions of dollars of which could be whisked in or out of existence if governments or central banks required it.

It seemed the time had come to rethink everything: the very nature of markets, money, debt; to ask what an 'economy' is actually for. Then, in one of the most colossal failures of nerve in history, we all collectively clapped our hands over our ears and tried to put things back as close as possible to the way they'd been before.

The form of resistance that has emerged looks similar to the old global justice movement: we see the rejection of old-fashioned party politics, the embrace of radical diversity, the same emphasis on inventing new forms of democracy from below. When the history is finally written, it's likely all of this tumult - beginning with the Arab Spring - will be remembered as the opening salvo in a wave of negotiations over the dissolution of the American Empire.

We might do well to consider the collapse of the European colonial empires. It did not lead to the rich successfully grabbing all the cookies, but to the creation of the welfare state. We don't know precisely what will come out of this round. But if the occupiers manage to break the 30-year stranglehold on the human imagination, they will have done us the greatest favour anyone possibly can.

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