Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I am not the 99%... Occupy Wall Street Protests

"I am the 99%" is a new slogan that has caught on with New Yorkers. All of America, some claim. They say that the 'Occupy Wall St' protest is a manifestation of the frustration of the 99% Americans who feel like they have been forsaken by the system in favor of the 1%. In principle, I agree with the protest against big bonuses with bailout money, but, when seen from closer quarters, I somehow felt that the real message had been lost in translation.

So when we walked into 'Liberty Square' as some choose to call Zuccotti Park in the wake of the protests, it just seemed like we had walked into a small crowd assembled in a flea market of sorts. For me, it was as if I was walking through Colaba Causeway in Mumbai, scrounging for junk jewelry, except that instead of random shopkeepers asking me to come sample their merchandise, there were a few bedraggled people mouthing protests. Instead of flashy store signs, there were scribblings on psychedelic signboards. And just a handful had anything to do with Wall Street. 

One spoke of bailouts, one spoke of corporate bandits in Wall Street or some such story and one just said 'Goldman Sachs hates America'. And while I looked at these posters, A band of people walked by chanting 'Less Greed, more Green'. And a little further on, someone started off screaming 'Fox News, we hate you'. And there were signboards slamming Monsanto and GM food! There were some making a statement with painted hair and faces, and the signage said 'Kill Turkish dictatorship!' There was a heavyset man with a Templar helmet and a sign that said 'Class Warrior'. I am sure he got photographed a billion times, not for his message, because I am sure very few would have grasped what he was protesting about, but rather for his getup. Early Halloween, maybe. Relevance, anyone? It looked as if there was a gross lack of theme in the whole movement, except that anyone who wanted to protest about anything could congregate there. And anything was almost anything! 

People holding out signs hinting at anti-capitalism were more than happy to smile into digital cameras. So, everyone was much too busy protesting against capitalism, on signboards made using psychedelic ink on shiny paper, or using LED lights for their signage. But without innovation and free markets dictating innovation, could we have imagined paper, ink, why even the jeans worn by people?

America is capitalist, believing in the concept of survival, and maybe flourishing of the fittest. And this model has served them well. Free innovation, knowing that he who survives will succeed has stood them in good stead and has led to the US being a pioneer in everything from life sciences to defense. There have been excesses in the recent past, no doubt, but power has been known to corrupt and history has shown excesses at all levels. But free enterprise and financial innovation cannot be done away with. One cannot fight Big Pharma just because they are big and therefore wrong! Had it not been for Pfizer, we would never have had penicillin! And had it not been for Wall Street, the iPhone 4S might have ended up in the grave along with Steve Jobs. 

And while big bonuses for bailout firms is an irony and perhaps needs to be done away with, t-shirts with 'Occupy Wall Street', that were selling by Zuccotti Park, perhaps captured the true essence of it all. The system is built in a certain way, and this system has been seen to succeed for all these years. Suddenly, if some feel like the overhaul of the system has thrown them out, and so want the whole system to be done away with, they perhaps have to realize that while they are protesting their heart out, someone somewhere is cashing in on the situation. He alone is perhaps the 1%. And if that is the message that comes out, I am so not the 99%.....

1 comment:

James Connolly said...

If you don't make more than 300k a year I think you're missing the point. These people start a dialogue and ask the entire 99% to share their views. It just so happens that a certain segment of the populace gets all of its information from the telly, is fine with that.