Last week I gave a speech at the Chicago Federal Reserve to the publications groups from the various Reserve Banks around the country. The speech was held in the LaSalle Room on the 3rd floor of the Chicago Fed Conference Center. The room faced LaSalle Street and I could hear the Occupy Chicago protestors behind me as I spoke.
In my opening remarks I noted that the Occupy Chicago movement was using some of the oldest communications techniques around, including banging drums, playing horns and marching up and down. I also noted that a quick look on the web showed them to be using some of the most modern communications tools available, including Twitter, Facebook, LiveStream, blogs, and websites; and that the New York group even had their own paper newspaper, the Occupied Wall Street Journal.
During my many years on LaSalle Street, I have seen quite a few protesters outside the Federal Reserve Building. Most of them, I would put in the category of “nut cases” that want to end the Federal Reserve System. They were mostly one day wonders and were soon gone from the sidewalk and back to their lives. The current protest outside the Chicago Federal Reserve has attracted some of the “End the Fed” crowd and signs, but that is not their main message.
The Occupy Chicago group has been exceedingly polite and law abiding. Yes, they are protesting, but not in a confrontational way. From my perspective, they are not being disrespectful. One story told to me claimed that the Occupy Chicago group tried to conduct a citizens arrest when one of their throng on a march tossed a brick through a Walgreen’s window. The person behind the brick throwing was told that type of behavior was not part of their movement. The brick thrower related the story on a site called anarchistnews.org (potentially NSFW).
I have walked through the Occupy Chicago group in front of the Federal Reserve and even heard them talk to some of their people about making sure the sidewalk is passable for pedestrians as I passed by. Some of these people look a lot like those you would meet on the train on the way to work.
A longtime CBOT member recently told me he thought some of the Occupy Wall Street group was financed by what I would call the bogeymen of the political left wing in the U.S. – and it was all being driven by President Obama.
Another longtime member of the CME wrote on his blog that these protesters are frauds because their cause has attracted the likes of Van Jones and labor unions.
Republican Presidential hopeful Herman Cain claimed on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that, “We know that the unions and certain union related organizations have been behind these protests that are going on on Wall Street and other parts around the country.”
Not everything has to do with the President of the United States. Or the labor unions. Or bogeymen. As I see it, the Occupy movement is a continuation of two things.
It is a continuation of the outrage that created the Tea Party movement, but Occupy has not been co-opted by the right. When the Tea Party started it was full of former Democrats and Republicans. Today, it is the very right wing of the Republican Party, minus the neo-cons. While labor unions and activists are willing to join and support the Occupy movement, that is not the genesis or the life-force of the movement.
This movement is also a continuation of the Arab Spring and a technological extension of that trend and strategy. It is a movement empowered by the tools of communication to rally like-minded people affected by the same economic or political issues. From occupywallst.org:
Occupy Wall Street is leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to achieve our ends and encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize the safety of all participants.
This movement is a viral social media phenomenon. It is a display of the power of Facebook, Twitter and other social networking tools. The labor union members might feel unity with the political and economic sentiments being expressed, but it is young people driving this. It is young people with college loan debt up to their ears who have no jobs or under-paying jobs and are frustrated at their prospects for viable employment. It is the young people who see Wall Street bailed out but students and homeowners still stuck with the debts of the pre-crisis world.
It is young people who have the new skills and tools needed to change the world but lack the jobs or power to demonstrate these capabilities. This is their chance.
The status quo does not like change, so it is no surprise to see criticism of the Occupy movement from the right-wing of American politics. The arguments that this group is anti-American or anti-capitalist are way off the mark. Automobile pioneer Henry Ford was criticized similarly when he started paying his workers $5 per day. He did not raise the pay of employees, but he gave them a bonus that made their pay equal $5 per hour if they stayed on the job. His goal was to improve employee retention. He also improved productivity by changing to an eight-hour day, which allowed three eight-hour shifts. He had radical ideas, but he was not anti-capitalist or anti-American.
The Occupy movement is not anti-democratic; rather, it is exercising its rights to free speech and freedom of assembly. The First Amendment makes perfectly clear: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The Occupy movement has a lot of potential because of its use of affordable technological tools, including many created and produced by the firm founded by the late Steve Jobs, Apple Inc. Walk through any of the Occupy sites and you will see a variety of cameras, from iPhones to SLRs to camcorders. Watch any of the Occupy videos and count the number of cameras you see.
Many of the tools that the Occupy movement is using are the same tools John Lothian News employs to get their message out. This is a viral social media driven political movement that a lot of people, young and old, are going to support.
At the end of the day, their viral social media driven message of “We are the 99%” is one that can overcome all the resources the status quo will mount to fight it.