January 18th, 2012 | China Daily Sound and fury signifying nothing
“We are the 99 percent” is the slogan of the “Occupy Wall Street” protesters who want to express their discontent with what they view as the greed and corruption of the wealthiest 1 percent of the population in the United States.
According to a report by the US Office of Management and Budget released on Oct 2011, from 1979 to 2007 the income of the wealthiest 1 percent of the population in the US increased 275 percent, while the income of the poorest 20 percent of the population increased by only 18 percent. And while the gap between the rich and the poor is growing increasingly wider, the US has a stubbornly high unemployment rate as a result of the financial crisis, which has hit lower-income groups and young job seekers the hardest.
Besides these economic factors, the movement, which combines liberalism, idealism, anarchism and socialism as a new “occupy-ism”, has also arisen out of the domestic contradictions in the US.
The ever-expanding anti-terrorism war launched after the Sept 11, 2001 attacks not only drained the fiscal surplus that accumulated during the Clinton administration, but also increased government supervision of society. The authorities restrict citizens’ freedom of expression, but ignore their “exploitation” by banks and the rich, which has intensified the public’s dissatisfaction with the government.
Despite the movement corresponding more closely with the Democratic Party’s political program and President Barack Obama’s cautious support for the movement, the protestors argue his administration has failed to meet the public’s expectations for domestic reforms, and they are critical of a political system, which allowed the Republican Party to almost bring the US government to a standstill when it joined hands with the extremely conservative Tea Party to oppose Obama’s policies on medical insurance, immigration, and the budget. The Republican Party has sought to undermine the influence of the movement through confrontation and by putting pressure on organizations and individuals that sympathize with the protesters.
And although the general appeal of the Occupy Wall Street movement is closer to the political policies of the Democratic Party, it doesn’t mean the movement will help improve Obama’s chances of being re-elected. It is the huge number of neutral voters that will determine the election result. Obama can only show cautious support to the protesters or risk alienating this key group of voters.
This is not only because the large middle class in the US has adopted a wait-and-see attitude toward the movement or is indifferent to it, but also because the core value in the US is freedom rather than equality, and the most prized freedom in the US is the freedom to make money. The prevailing viewpoint is that participants in he movement should endeavor to change their personal circumstances rather than resorting to complaining on the street. The primary issue that will influence the election is economic recovery, which has no direct connection with Occupy Wall Street movement.
Although more than 1,000 cities in the US have joined the movement and it has now spread all over the world, the number of people that participate in the movement is limited compared to some previous anti-war movements and it has failed to produce any tangible changes.
The author is a researcher with the Institute of American Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
By Liu Weidong