Stephen Foley: Farewell Occupy Wall Street, you've served your purpose
Stephen Foley is a former Associate Business Editor of The Independent, based in New York. He left in August 2012. In a decade at the paper, he covered personal finance, the UK stock market and the pharmaceuticals industry, and had also been the Business section's share tipster. Between arriving with three suitcases in Manhattan in January 2006 and his departure, he witnessed and reported on a great economic boom turning spectacularly to bust. In March 2009, he was named Business and Finance Journalist of the Year at the British Press Awards.
Saturday 19 November 2011
US Outlook: So farewell, then, Occupy Wall Street. Or at least, farewell to the encampment a few doors down from where I am writing, where 200 or so activists had been promising to spend the winter under tarps in protest at Tarp (the Troubled Asset Relief Program, better known as the Wall Street bailout).
Aside from the brutality of the police operation itself, I am, on balance, not sad to see the camp dismantled, and not for the nimbyist reasons you might think. It had served its purpose; its continuing presence seemed to me at best irrelevant and at worse damaging to issues I think are important.
Last time I went, it reminded me of nothing so much as that far corner at a music festival, where activists for a dizzying array of causes dispense leaflets from behind trestle tables. OWS seemed doomed to become a curiosity, like Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park, rather than build the mass movement its occupiers hoped. In-fighting was already eroding the heavily favourable press coverage and the support from New Yorkers that it has received.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, justifying the raid, successfully managed to separate the right to protest from the right to camp in a public park for ever. The OWS movement has swollen each time it is attacked, but this time adherents have been forced to ask what they are really supporting.
There is much work to be done. Rebalancing the US economy away from financial services and improving the relative fortunes of the lower and middle classes, on whose confidence a broad economic recovery depends, involves going further to reform banking and, yes, asking for more tax from banks and the rich. These are hardly concerns exclusive to the unwashed lefties of OWS caricature.
OWS has provided some good slogans, not least "We are the 99 per cent". Many of them will be taken up by unions and lobby groups who really do understand how to use political power. Now the displaced activists of Zuccotti Park, and their wider sympathisers, will be forced to work out what they really want. That's a necessary precondition to getting it.
So farewell, Occupy Wall Street, and god speed.
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