Occupy Wall Street Critics Miss the Big Picture


According to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 86% of Americans think Wall Street and its lobbyists have too much influence in Washington; 79% say the gap between rich and poor has grown too large, with 66% saying wealth in the United States should be distributed more evenly. Moreover, 71% say executives whose firms were responsible for crashing the global economy should be prosecuted. And, 59% mostly agree or completely agree with the goals of Occupy Wall Street. It's not difficult to surmise from this data that this last number would be higher if only more people could bring themselves to say they agree with those “dirty hippies.”

Yet despite the prevalent feeling among the American public that the country is headed in the wrong direction, that Wall Street exercises undue influence in our political system, and that something ought to be done about growing income disparity, some commentators on this site and in the mainstream media would have us believe that OWS is a curious aberration rather than the inevitable manifestation of popular discontent. The preferred critique of the movement is that it lacks solutions to the very national problems about which it is protesting, which is an interesting charge considering that Congress and the President — the two branches tasked with that very duty — have failed spectacularly in this regard.

To say that OWS can’t be effective unless it proposes specific solutions is to fail to see the overall picture — that something is terribly wrong with our political system and it is not necessary to advance explicit proposals in order to protest against it. No doubt the time for solutions will come, as it must, but for now it is sufficient to say that this state of affairs is simply unacceptable.

It is worth noting that on occasion, the corporate media reports polls similar to the one mentioned above, and for a few years now these have regularly reflected widespread apprehension about the economy and concern about the influence of large companies, especially Wall Street, on our elected officials. And yet no pundit ever chides these faceless Americans for their outrage at our system or their lack of solutions for fixing it. The reason is simple. As long as these Americans remain abstractions, mere numbers in a poll, they need not be rebuked. But the moment any of them take to the streets to protest the very status quo by which the corporate media, Wall Street, and compromised public officials benefit, the smears will surely commence from on high. And commence they have.

While police across the country are busy monitoring, arresting, clubbing, and pepper-spraying mostly peaceful demonstrators, Wall Street companies and their executives continue to enjoy immunity from criminal prosecution for the securities fraud, foreclosure fraud (robo-signings), market manipulation, and other malfeasance they committed before and have committed since the 2008 crash, as none of them have been charged with a crime in connection with the greatest financial collapse in 80 years. While there have been several lawsuits filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission against Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, JP Morgan, Bank of America, and others, the fines levied and settlements reached over catastrophic wrongdoing amount to little more than a slap on the wrist. One federal judge has even rejected SEC settlements with Bank of America and Citigroup because he deemed the figures too low given the severity of the crimes. This is hardly surprising given the revolving-door situated between Wall Street and the chief regulatory agency responsible for policing it.

In light of the circumstances surrounding the current crisis, is it really any mystery why Occupiers and the American public in general are so upset at Wall Street? While it’s true that many or most people do not know exactly what a mortgage-backed security is or how a credit-default swap works, such knowledge is hardly a prerequisite for genuine and justified outrage at those responsible for crashing the global economy. People know something is amiss. And that alone is enough. For now. 

Photo Credit: eddie jetson