The Occupy movement has gone global ever since it’s fiery start on September 17, 2011, in New York City's Zuccotti Park. Strangely enough, the phenomenon was initiated by Canadians, the founders of Adbusters magazine, not Americans, lending further credibility to South Park’s famous "Blame Canada" motto. But I digress.
Why should you care? It’s just a bunch of stupid hippies and jobless freaks expressing their angst because they can’t get a job with their smelly dreadlocks, right? Well, maybe not. This movement is tapping into the very core of the reasons underpinning the Great Recession, tapping into ancient history and even potentially changing the course of the political debate in the United States and around the world through its grass roots and social media approach. Click here for a global map of protest locations around the world. More interesting than the countries on the map IMHO are the glaring exceptions: quasi-communist China, formerly communist Russia and most of Africa. Freedom of expression is a wonderful thing.
The drivers of the movement are many, however one of the more powerful statistics (click here for a primer) is that the top 1 percent of Americans possess a greater net worth than the entire bottom 90 percent. What’s making people angrier still is the drop in lower and middle class income against this top 1 percent. While no one is really talking about the reasons, it’s pretty simple. While the middle class in America grew wealthy primarily due to rising home values tied to mortgages, the wealthiest decile was predominantly invested in their own businesses and didn’t rely on loans for their wealth, so when the bottom fell out of the housing market worldwide, they were immune.
But enough about money. What this post is about is recognizing the political impetus for change evident in OWS. Some have called it the left leaning version of the Tea Party movement. And it is. In fact, I have great respect for both movements, as impossible as that may sound to Europeans. And I am not one to shy away from controversial positions, as evidenced by my post on WikiLeaks. Both organic movements were born out of a frustration with the current self-serving political structure that is willing to change absolutely nothing. So much for Obama! But what the OWS is sorely lacking is a well-defined set of goals and more importantly, a charismatic spokesperson. From my strategic marketing perspective, what they need to ultimately succeed is a leftist version of Sarah Palin. And much like the billionaire Koch brothers (whom the only viable Republican candidate for President of the US, Mitt Romney has been courting) were soon outed as the financial engine of the Tea Party, it’s only a matter of time before the people financing the Occupy movement are exposed.
The grassroots model which OWS champions, based loosely on the Egyptian protests which made effective use of social media to spread discontent with an unpopular and autocratic government worldwide is the closest the modern world has seen to a direct democracy since ancient Greece. Could this be the way forward? Say what you will, but the Occupy movement is absolutely right about one thing. Money should not equal political influence. The will of the people should. If it weren’t for the crack rock habit corporate money represents to US politicians, Congress would have changed legislation to outlaw the dubious financial instruments which nearly sunk the global economy years ago. Shame on you, elected representatives.
Sadly, while most Americans still want to believe in the Dream and many will tell you that hard work is the key to success, the stats offer a much starker reality. Income inequality in the US now ranks in the bottom third of the world, is greater than in most of the developed world (including Europe) and is in fact very close to Russia’s. Not exactly the comparison Americans aspire to. Slovenians reading this post can take comfort in knowing their country is best in the world when it comes to income equality, even if it could be doing a much better job in attracting FDI, reforming its 3rd world judicial system and job creation.
Way forward? You tell me, but change is in the making, and if history has taught us anything, it’s that revolutions can be sudden, unpredictable and harsh. France’s Marie Antoinette learned that the hard way. America was forged through a revolution. Will it be re-born through one? Or will the OWS movement simply fade into oblivion? Only time will tell, but the clock of political change is ticking, many people are fed up and the younger generations are the ones with a future to lose… Not to mention the whole world is watching.
Nick Taylor is a social media, PR and marketing consultant, blogger, politico and wannabe geek based in Scottsdale, Arizona (US). He shares his thoughts on thetwohalves.com.
Check out the complete Occupy Wall Street series.