These days marks the 10th anniversary of a small group of activists occupying Zuccotti Park, a small patch of paved land surrounded by tall buildings in Lower Manhattan (New York), very close to Wall Street, the financial center of the world. Occupy Wall Street was born. That movement coincided, which little by little was spreading through different American cities, with numerous protests in many parts of the world. This was then coming out of the worst moments of the Great Recession. The main message of almost all the revolts was the following: the increasing concentration of income and wealth within societies represents a serious danger to democracy. The reverse redistribution brought about by the financial crisis – the rich getting richer; the poor, increasingly poor – and their sense of fraud, was the lowest common denominator of the concentrations.
The economist Jeffrey D. Sachs then concluded that OWS was a synecdoche: not only did it refer to New York, but it included a wave of social protests, both in developed and developing countries; Although the political and economic grievances were different in each country, there were important similarities, so it would be reasonable to call what was happening Occupy Global Capitalism. Then, and during this decade, OWS has been criticized for being a kind of nihilistic protest, with no concrete motives: its cause would be, in general, the reform of the political economy of capitalism.
However, OWS was a watershed in denouncing inequality. The mobilizations in Manhattan were not so much due to the absolute harshness of the economic circumstances of the most disadvantaged as to the unequal way in which specific segments of society were affected after the 2008 financial crisis. Hence the lucky motto of “ We are the 99%! ”, Attributed to the anarchist anthropologist David Graeber, now deceased. The tensions between the 99% and 1% of the ultra-rich then became the real class struggle.
It was about the majority to stop focusing on those below them (the last against the penultimate) and pay attention to those who were above. This does not mean that within that 99% there were not all kinds of class, gender, racial and cultural divisions and mistrust. The economist Nouriel Roubini, one of those who correctly predicted the Great Recession, wrote that the concept of a downtrodden and despondent 99% and a prosperous 1% at the top end of the population was perhaps a simplification of a very complex situation. And yet it resonated thereafter as a very profound truth: free and unbounded markets, continued deregulation, and truly existing globalization did not benefit everyone, and some of their pernicious consequences were linked to massive job losses, to the mediocre increase in wages and, above all, to the increase in inequalities.
Of the main theses of OWS —which have infiltrated institutional politics, sometimes from the hands of figures such as Senator Bernie Sanders, participant in the demonstrations; sometimes in the economic paradigm shift announced by Joe Biden – some have become obsolete over time: then, the richest 1% was made up mostly of people from the financial world who over the years have been displaced in the lists of billionaires by representatives of the technology sector: Silicon Valley by Wall Street. Then it was coming out of the Great Recession and today the world is coming out of the Great Confinement, at uneven speed. In one case as well as in the other, the anger of a part of the population has only one cause: a form of economic progress that, oriented towards the creation of private wealth, is indifferent to the ideas of collective well-being, social justice and environmental protection. . That is the main message that remains from OWS.
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