Sparking the wildfire [By Jiao Haiyang/China.org.cn]
Four weeks into the Occupy Wall Street protest movement, the event which began in New York City with smallish group of young students has spread to about 25 major U.S. cities. After watching the Arab Spring and London rioting, the anger of the American people at inequality in the country has finally ignited. Some commentators describe OWS as "a mob, amusing at best, irritating at worse" because the demands of the protesters are so varied and no coherent message has coalesced. But Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek told his fellow protesters that those commentators are trying to "dilute the protests" and to turn the event into "a harmless moral protest," to "make coffee without caffeine."
Americans have the constitutional right of free speech and as long as demonstrators act within the law, their wills shall be recognized and considered by policy makers. OWS appears diffused in terms of theme, course of election, and campaign organization. The questions are what impact OWS has made on society and how the movement will end.
Most protesters joined the movement to call attention to the "staggering wealth disparity" between rich and poor. They blame big corporations for taking financial rewards and leaving the 9 percent of the population without a job to pick up the bill for corporate greed. The movement also includes anti-war groups, environmentalists labor movement organizers. In general, all factions of the protest are asking for a fairer, more just and more democratic system which allows Washington policies to be made by the majority and serve everyone.
Actually, Americans have had this wish for a while. President Obama promised change in his 2008 presidential campaign. But his policies have not pulled the country out of its economic downturn. Instead, more people are losing jobs, and the U.S. dollar is still depreciating. People are frustrated. The traction of OWS now shows great potential to influence the 2012 presidential election. Unlike the Tea Party Movement, which enjoys support from Republican leaders and donors, OWS is rather decentralized. Democratic leaders have been cautious commenting on the protests. Embracing OWS is a risky choice. The anger that drives OWS not only targets Republicans, but also the Obama administration and other incumbent Democrats. The Democrats could lose votes by confusing mainstream voters.
There is also the interesting idea that the protesters are hypocrites. They hate big corporations, but they use their products and services and dream of landing jobs there. But the protesters' alleged hypocrisy does not diminish the movement's social impact. The media has paid much less attentions to OWS compared with the right-wing Tea Party Movement. It is alright for the American police to arrest protesters who jeopardized public interests, but when it comes to other countries, the America calls it violence. Hypocrisy is so common in the States that it has already become part of the game.
OWS has not yet had enough time to change the social system or to have profound influence on politics proposals on par with the Tea Party Movement. But it is making some real coffee. Neither the Obama administration nor the presidential candidates can ignore the will of the middle and low classes. They have to address the problems raised in future campaigns.
How will the OWS end?
People in the parks will eventually return home and spend Christmas with their families. But the diffused theme of OWS provides sufficient room for unions who would like to take advantage of the protests to impose their agenda. OWS could be split into different factions with more representative and organized strategies. For individuals, they will learn an entire set of protest skills to help them continue fighting for whatever they support in the future.
Last but not least, in addition to the entertainment, Chinese audience could also foresee that the U.S.-China economic relationship is nowhere close to warm. To calm unemployed Americans and to win voters who blame others for the U.S. economic decline, criticizing China is always a good play. The Senate's passage of legislation pressuring Beijing on the yuan-dollar exchange rate is just a start.
The author is a freelancer based in Beijing.
Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn