As if from nowhere the Occupy Wall Street lumbered out of the starting blocks. That was four weeks ago. Today, the movement has failed to generate the electricity and mass support of the Arab Spring from which it was fashioned. In essence, it remains a disparate, disorganised and disso- nant group-with a fair spattering of fringe elements who threaten to sully an already fractious message. A few decades ago, I would have been more impressed. Then again, being young can be a charmed existence. Mind you, maturity does not necessarily reap conservative ideals. However, it allows for a sobering assessment of burgeoning social movements.
Undoubtedly, Occupy Wall Street, purportedly inspired by the on-going Middle East unrest, falls terribly short in fervour, organisation, and single-minded intention. Let us be clear, the Arab uprising must be viewed as a last-ditch response against repressive regimes historically propped up by suffocating and potentially deadly security apparati. Sure, the move- ment later responded to joblessness and economic decay, but its combustion is reflective of seeth-ing resentment and overflowing political frustration. This is hardly the case in New York, or in the US for that matter. Do the occupiers of Zuccotti Park, renamed Liberty Square, have a legitimate case? I am not too sure.
A placard-waving young man, donning a fine jacket, told me that he graduated from a notable university two years ago and has not been able to find work. "For every job opening," he said, "there were 300 applicants." He cited "latest job reports." The CEO of a credit union in Rochester spoke about "the hardship that her members have been experiencing," and belonging to the "99 per cent" of "the disenfranchised." Of course, the one per cent symbolically resided on Wall Street. Asked why the crowd was not numerically representative of those "hurting," she said "they were there in spirit." She continued: "Many people are doing two jobs just to make ends meet."
Support for the movement has come from heavyweights. Music mogul Russell Simmons offered to pay for the cleaning of the park to avoid confrontation with the mayoral office and law enforcement. Al Gore endorsed "non-violent change," and Bill Clinton added that Occupy Wall Street could be a positive thing if it could make specific suggestions. And it is this statement by the former President that raises nagging questions regarding this movement. Yes, hedge fund "smoke and mirrors" economics have brought unearned millions for some (without signs of the proverbial trickle-down effect); and sure the Gov- ernment has bailed out big business and not the people-while unemployment edges to double digits (17 per cent among blacks and Latinos).
However, Occupy Wall Street is yet to prepare a manifesto or working paper on the state of the nation. As such, there is no real articulation of its agenda or policy statement. Instead, you are fed with relics of bygone revolutionary propaganda. Words such as "hierarchical" and "structure" are scoffed at-anathema to the movement. The movement's general assembly is nothing more than a platform for "free speech," espousing disparate messages, ranging from anti-war diatribe to the nostalgic ranting of 1960s radical icons. "We are purposefully leaderless," they say, advocating what they call "horizontal politics." And prohibited from using bull horns, "leaders" and supporters resort to echolalia-eerily conjuring images of Mao's China.
Curiously, the movement has failed to attract those who have been hit the most-minorities. Its supporters remain white and ultra-liberal young men and women who have the "luxury" and "pop" inclination to challenge the establishment and any semblance of authority. I don't usually agree with columnist Charles Krauthammer, but when he referred to the protesters as "Starbucks-sipping, Levi's-clad, and I-phone clutching" bent on blaming a system in which they wallow, he has a point. This brings me back to my point. The sheer tenacity of the Arab Spring against state brutality has toppled three governments in the process. Not surprising. They are hardened people with nothing else to defend but their honour- and willing to be martyred for the cause.
Americans-although saddled with a soaring deficit and the burden of two unending wars-are far from destitute. While many on hand decried US plutocracy, they are unwilling to acknowledge the fiscal irresponsibility of most Americans. Case in point, the subprime loan debacle which precipitated this "crisis" should not be placed solely on the shoulders of the rich. With economic and political hope, mass consumerism persists throughout the US. The party is far from over. Till such time, the masses will not risk loss of liberty, injury, and possible death. America's democracy, with all its faults, is the sure safeguard against the explosiveness of the Arab Spring. Call it American exceptionalism if you may.
No one is privy to the future, but allow me this one time to wager. Occupy Wall Street is destined to fade away-like autumn. And as the biting cold awaits-the final death knell to the fanciful overtures of privileged renegades is surely nigh at hand.
• Dr Glenville Ashby is the New York correspondent for the Guardian Media Group
• Do the occupiers of Zuccotti Park, renamed Liberty Square, have a legitimate case? I am not too sure.
• Curiously, the movement has failed to attract those who have been hit the most- minorities.
• Occupy Wall Street is destined to fade away-like autumn.