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Le Nouvel Observateur, France

The Slogans of Occupy Wall Street



By Gabrielle Durana

The ranks of the “occupants” are sparse, but their slogans are getting the 99 percent of passersby to talk.

Translated By Courtney Lind

12 October 2011

Edited by Gillian Palmer


France - Le Nouvel Observateur - Original Article (French)

May 1968 left us with the slogan “Under the stones lies liberty”; what will Occupy Wall Street, the movement denouncing the abuses of financial capitalism, leave us? Gabrielle Durana, an economist who lives in San Francisco, identifies its most striking slogans.

Here we are, a month since the movement Occupy Wall Street began, just a few blocks from the old barricade built by Peter Stuyvesant, the Director-General of the East India Company, in 1653 in lower Manhattan to protect Dutch settlers from attacks by the natives.

In a square renamed “Liberty Square,” young and old, as well as veteran demonstrators, camp out day and night, under the model of the Indigenous Spanish movement. With signs and newspapers (the “Occupied Wall Street Journal”), they denounce the greed of banks and their claim that they are making their part of the American dream.

At first the movement was presented by the media as a bunch of unkempt and worked-up kids who should be left alone in order to allow their excess energy to simply disperse. In particular, the recurring expression was that of a “Romper Room Revolution,” an alliteration with R and an allusion to the television series of the ‘70s, “Romper Room,” which aimed to keep kids as young as five entertained with physical activity in front of the TV, letting their mothers breathe for half an hour.

Now that the movement has spread to 25 other cities and continues to last, the 10 o’clock news and the true Wall Street Journal are talking about it.

What is the movement Occupy Wall Street?

As demonstrated by the wonderful book “The Art of Moral Protest — Culture, Biography and Creativity in Social Movements” by James M. Jasper, periods of social revolt result in a powerful current where individualism is lost and we see the uprise of a generation. Their slogans, often borrowed from humor, are the gold word for sociologists who are trying to understand and seize the moment.

Three years after the financial tsunami that brought on the movement Occupy Wall Street, there are as many ideas as there are brains boiling. “Wall St. is the Problem” is the response of the Regan administration, which launched the slogan in 1980: “Government is not the solution to our problem, Government is the problem.”

The theme of bank thieves (“banksters”) comes up very often even if “End corporate greed” takes over sooner than idealism. There are calls for regulation (“Chairman Bernanke, regulate your damn banks!”) around equity (“End Welfare for the Rich!”).

We also read of the claims concerning the desirability of this sort of political crisis, “Paychecks not credit card bills,” or “Stimulus not corporate welfare,” or “Procyclical monetary and fiscal policies in a depression are stupid!” for Keynesian oath. “End the Fed” recalls the rallying cries of the tea party.

The slogan that has become the most famous is: “We are the 99 percent, we represent 99 percent of people.” And a variation on it: “Banks for the 99 percent!”

The Über-rich vs. the impoverished middle class

The movement Occupy Wall Street is a late response, a left alternative to the tea party. There is an awareness of one class of “über-rich,” who pay less in taxes than the Secretary of State and live like moguls, oppressing an impoverished middle class, stripping them of their dignity because they are incapable of providing for their families or starting them, despite their best efforts.

Nancy Pelosi, elected from San Francisco and leader of the democratic minority in Congress, sees in the movement “the quintessential American values of justice.”

Naomi Klein and Michael Moore had to pinch themselves to believe it; not since Karl Marx has there been a workers’ movement in the U.S.

The ranks of the “occupants” are sparse, but their slogans are getting the 99 percent of passersby to talk. The ability of the insurgents to influence the 98 percent who do not envy the rich (they demand of their representatives a law which would bring back a tax rate from the Clinton era) depends on the measure of success of a movement without a God or a master.

It is true that 1 percent of the population now owns 40 percent of the U.S. wealth, a concentration not seen since the era of “The Great Gatsby.”



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