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Restoring the balance

The Occupy Wall Street protests show that Left is back in business. Biju Mathew writes.

india Updated: Nov 24, 2011 01:36 IST
Biju Mathew

Last week at Broadway and Wall Street, a young law student challenged the policemen who were protecting a bank. "I am not moving," he shouted, his voice breaking with emotion. "This is the bank that took away my parents' house. You can arrest me but I am not moving."

There were many others like him across the 10 square blocks around Wall Street. I have moved around these blocks, checking if there had been a breach anywhere as the morning mobilisation to disrupt Wall Street peaked. At 10.30 am, I saw a bank employee stepping out for a smoke. "What's it like inside?" I asked her. She smiled wearily and said: "It's about 50% still.... nobody made it in today at 9".

Later that afternoon, the protesters returned for a final push. When I joined my crew of taxi workers getting ready to march across the Brooklyn Bridge, a group of retirees of the Service Employees Union sang an old workers' solidarity song to a cheering audience. Later I saw the Taxi Workers' Alliance banner held high, the voice on the microphone was of a young girl who kept chanting: "Fight, fight, fight....".

The second month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street (OWS) was on November 17. On November 15, Mayor Michael Bloomberg moved to raze the occupation. The stand-off continued all night and a little after 9 am, the Occupiers re-entered the park thanks to a positive court order. This turnaround is what makes this mobilisation very different from anything New York has seen for the last several decades.

Unlike the anti-war protests, which were well- orchestrated weekend affairs, this OWS mobilisation happens every day of the week. The anti-war movement was significantly white and middle class. This one is not.

In 2008 when the economic downturn hit the US, many of us watched with horror as the first reaction that hit the ground running, so to speak, was the right wing response — the Tea Party. The Left was also mobilising but it was yet to coalesce into anything large. But September 17 changed that and OWS inspired similar occupations. In the end, one clear outcome of the financial meltdown is that both the Right and the Left have experienced growth. In that sense, America has undergone a tremendous shift. With a year left for the presidential election, and with the "We are the 99%" slogan of OWS, one thing is true for now — the Left has the momentum.

Biju Mathew is a co-founder of and Organiser with the Taxi Workers Alliance and an Associate Professor of Business at Rider University, New Jersey. The views expressed by the author are personal.