Occupy Wall Street: What You Can Demand versus What You Must DO


by BAR executive editor Glen Ford

Occupy Wall Street activists are under some pressures to come up with demands to make of the powerful. However, “in many cases, there is no point in demanding anything from your enemy, except that he drop dead in a hurry.” If Wall Street is an unadulterated evil as many OWS folks claim – and they are right – then what is to be demanded of the banksters and their friends? That they commit suicide, forthwith? And how do you reform a cancer away? “Well before 1999, Wall Street power had passed the point where it could be controlled by conventional regulation.”


Occupy Wall Street: What You Can Demand versus What You Must DO

by BAR executive editor Glen Ford

What does a movement of the 99% versus the 1% mean by democracy, when measured against the privileges of money?”

If the signage at the Wall Street occupation site and its thousands of satellites around the country tells the tale, the dominant sentiment in the nascent movement is that finance capital be ejected from the commanding heights of power. True, there are myriad other issues in the churning mix of leaderless people power, but this is the tie that binds, without which centrifugal forces would have hurled the small, founding band of organizers into oblivion. Washington, DC’s Freedom Plaza, the other pole of the occupation force field, was established by significantly older, veteran activists, some of whom have wished Wall Street dead since the days before the bankers murdered and cannibalized (liquidated!) the last Titan of Industry.

Having challenged the plutocrats and all their minions – and gaining majority support of the American people in the process – the “movement” is called upon, from inside and out, to make specific demands. Of course, Old Fred taught us that power concedes nothing without a demand. But the wrong demands can undo a popular project, so this is not something to rush into. And, in many cases, there is no point in demanding anything from your enemy, except that he drop dead in a hurry.

It is by no means clear to me that all of the folks who claim to be bankster-slayers really want to kill the beast, or merely attempt to shrink or tame it. The logic of political economy, historical experience and common sense dictates that, if the vast wealth and power that flows from concentrated private capital is what allowed Wall Street to achieve hegemony over every important aspect of U.S. society, then concentrated capital must be vanquished; that it be given no space or opportunity to regroup to make further war on democracy.

The wrong demands can undo a popular project, so this is not something to rush into.”

Ah, democracy, the other dominant current in the occupation conversation. What does a movement of the 99% versus the 1% mean by democracy, when measured against the privileges of money? Is it acceptable that any human being wield a million times as much influence on society as the average Josephine, by virtue of his wealth or connections to money? What about the only somewhat rich, with a few thousand times as much societal clout? Would they be prevented, like parolees, from fraternizing with their peers, lest they combine to exercise mega-clout? And, what about when these rich guys put on their masks and call themselves “The Markets.” Will we allow them to run around freely, buying and selling stuff to make millions (and then billions and derivative trillions) for themselves while, as a byproduct, affecting the terms of life for all the rest of us, wholly outside the democratic process or any civilized notion of development?

Does anyone seriously believe that today’s Masters of the Universe will allow themselves to be shut out – as a class – of the electoral pathways to state power, without wreaking havoc on an impudent society through their current control of every lever of power and the sheer crush of their money? One cannot simply leave the hegemon intact, allowing him to retain all the powers of concentrated capital that made him Master, and expect him to accept the new limitations.

The idea that the plutocrats can be quarantined from power, while remaining plutocrats, is absurd. And no, there is no difference between Warren Buffet, the Koch brothers, Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, the Walton (Mal-Mart) family and the late Steven Jobs. Their very existence is an insult to any legitimate concept of democracy. Every one of them would kill a million people to preserve his billions. They already do.

The idea that the plutocrats can be quarantined from power, while remaining plutocrats, is absurd.”

A movement must be prepared to break the plutocrats’ power – confiscate his fortune or make it impossible to spend – or find themselves like Lilliputians trying to tie down a huge and vicious unchained Gulliver while he stomps on you like roaches.

There is a nostalgia and romanticism in some neighborhoods of the movement – understanding that anyone is welcome to wander in and claim membership – that has echoes in the Tea Party. A Washington Post column by Barry Ritholtz, an author and head of a quantitative research firm, offers advice to the OWS movement. He wants to “bring back real capitalism,” with no bank bailouts. His closely related position is to end “too big to fail” banks in order to “restore competition.” None of this works, however, if the “real” finance capitalism at this stage in its development is exactly what we have experienced: an inherently unstable system that inexorably moves toward further consolidation, suborning every social institution along the way as a consequence of its very nature. If capitalism is in deep crisis – which is the case – and if the nature of that crisis compels finance capitalist institutions to search for ever-increasing returns through rigged markets, derivatives, systematic looting of vulnerable communities, overseas plunder under U.S. military protection and wholesale privatization of public assets in the developed capitalist countries, all of which requires massive corruption of the political and moral life of the home society, then we have simply experienced late-stage finance capitalism as it actually exists. Ritholtz would have us send the banks back to some previous era, where they will regain the vigor and moral uplift of youth.

Ritholtz clearly loves banks, or the idea of banks, and would never transfer their societal functions – which they no longer fulfill – to public entities under democratic direction. He thinks “competition” will solve the problem. However, Ritholtz does support a constitutional amendment to keep corporate money out of congressional elections, which I suppose gets his nose under the broad OWS tent, so to speak.

Finance capital preys on the real economy and is most responsible for devouring and privatizing the public sector.”

What about bringing back Glass-Steagall, the 1932 law that separated investment banking from commercial banking, but was repealed in 1999 under President Bill Clinton? Would reinstatement of Glass-Steagall fit the bill for meaningful reform worthy of OWS? I don’t think so. If the power of Wall Street was such in 1999 that a Democratic administration would collaborate in repeal of a foundational New Deal economic pillar, then finance capital was already hegemonic. Well before 1999, Wall Street power had passed the point where it could be controlled by conventional regulation. Rather, the struggle is to free society from its fatal embrace. There is no reforming Wall Street, only its dismantling and simultaneous replacement by public institutions for allocating capital for human needs and development.

The crisis of capitalism is the hegemony of finance capital, which is beyond repair. $16 trillion dollars in infusions from the public sector under President Obama – more than the gross domestic product of the United States – have failed to cause Wall Street to function as a social asset of the nation or the global economy. Quite the opposite; finance capital preys on the real economy and is most responsible for devouring and privatizing the public sector, leaving the people naked to the predations of a dying and parasitic system.

People can choose to be ruled by rich men who call themselves “markets” or they can trust themselves to erect public institutions that are responsive to human needs. For four weeks now, the swelling OWS movement has claimed to be contemplating how to harness democracy and end plutocracy. Since it is patently clear that plutocrats and democracy cannot coexist, the project is to rid us of the plutocrats, while there’s still time to save our world. Once that’s understood, the rest is in the details.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at [email protected].


Understanding the details of the power bank/Wall St. is hard.

Because understanding the workings is so hard for me, and many others, to grasp, it's been easier for the propagandists for the rich and powerful to pull off their century-old (at least) brain-bending of the US public.  At the same time, they've been selling the myths of "rugged individualism" (e.g. "If you want a job, get one." lie that's a bumper sticker) and blame yourself not the system.  

The fear caused by the Occupy Wall Street "movement" (good point, " ", Glen Ford) is making a few minutes a day of Right Wing radio monitoring good for a laugh.  My favorite of late was the yelling about Saul Alinsky's methods of organizing by one Right wing radio host.  If that gets people to read about organizing: great!

Paul Street has a good new piece on Znet about Occupy Wall Street, and has quoted Glen Ford of last week in this piece and the last one.  www.Zcommunications.org/znet

Does Mr. Ford referring to

Does Mr. Ford referring to Fred Engels or Fred Hampton?

Fred is

Frederick Douglass

I think your first paragraph

I think your first paragraph sums up what most of us think, including the majority of the poor. What is it that they want? It seems that they want to rich to just hand everything over to other people, thus creating other rich people who will probably behave in the same manner.


There are many casino operating standards that an online casino has to meet news in order to offer you casino games to play.

That doesn't make any sense Rodney.

If they seem to have a bunch of different goals that is because the enormous problems the U.S. has are many and varied and can't be boiled down to one simple soundbite answer. I've seen some of them with signs calling for an end to the death penalty, others with signs calling for an end to the wars, others who want a real investigation into 9/11. But it seems that the most frequent demands relate to the horrendous wealth disparity in this country between the rich and everyone else (hence the "We are the 99%") although I think they would do well to recognize that the wealthy ruling elite is more like the uppermost 5% of the population rather than simply 1%.

Most of all it seems they are sick of the U.S. government being nothing but a hand puppet of the billionaires and big corporations, of having no real candidates to choose between in elections as all we get to vote for are overt conservatives like McCain and Romney versus barely-disguised conservatives like Obama and Hillary Clinton. Having a total lack of political representation, living in a sham democracy that has meaningless dog & pony show "elections", that kinda tends to piss an intelligent person off. As it's obvious that voting in the U.S. accomplishes less than nothing they see a distinct lack of options to push forward a progressive agenda aside from mobilizing and taking to the streets to demonstrate like the people in a similar situation in Egypt saw as their only recourse. Can't blame them for that.

The most enlightened and forward-thinking among them seem to want radical solutions as they can see that remedial reform measures aren't going to cut it. This doesn't mean something so simplistic and vapid as your "take all the money from the rich and give it to other people and make them rich instead" nonsense. Rather it will have to involve doing away with the capitalist wage slavery economic model and replacing it with something much more humane. Putting the ownership of the productive assets in the hands of the only people who won't exploit the workers, namely the workers themselves. That is the only way to prevent the enslavement of the working class and poor that goes on daily in this country and is the only way to give the vast majority of this country's workers a real incentive to work harder, to do a better job, to pay closer attention, to give better customer service etc. because they will finally have a real stake in the success of their workplace.

That's what the future looks like Rodney. Capitalism is on its way out and needs to be replaced by something that is designed around what is best for the average person, not the average Rockefeller. Capitalism has failed the average person spectacularly. It belongs in a museum.

Don't Trust the Government, or Corporations, or Mainstream Media

The US government has a very poor history of the government helping out social assets like healthcare for all, environmental protections, and generally supporting peace, justice and liberty for all.

At the same time they have no problem helping corporate assets, and the 1% that controls them, get a larger and larger piece of our public money, our tax dollars, by giving it to them in the form of bailouts, tax cuts, while failing to pursue crimes perpetuated against the American people by Wall Street and the Military Industrial complex. Both the democratic and republican party are beholden to the corporate forces. Let's not forget to include our military and police that are beholden to corporate entities.

The mnimum we can do is to not vote for either of the two corporate parties. We don't have to give them our consent, with is what we do whenever we vote for either party.

Vote third party, vote Green Party, vote Nader. Don't throw your vote away on the lesser of two evils.

www.NotOneMore.US - Take the Pledge for Peace

Great article.

And I agree, the goal of the Occupy Wall Street movement needs to be nothing short of real transformative change. And by real transformative change I mean a clean break with current notions of bourgeois property relations, very much including but not limited to the banking industry.

"And how do you reform a cancer anyway?"

My thoughts exactly and, in looking at the big picture, the cancer isn't just Wall Street greed run amok but capitalism itself. Capitalism just simply doesn't work for the vast majority of people in this country yet so many have been brainwashed into thinking some form of capitalism is the only answer. Think about it: if aspirin worked great for 1% of the population, worked pretty well for another 4% but for the remaining 95% of the population had varying effects from not doing anything at all to making their headache worse to poisoning them outright, would anyone in their right mind have any problem at all in saying that aspirin doesn't work for hardly anyone and should be discarded by the majority of people with headaches? Surely not. So why the cognitive dissonance among many Americans regarding capitalism?

It is an exploitative economic system that literally could not function without a significant disparity between what a worker's labor equals in terms of value added for the company and what he or she is actually paid to perform that labor. There are tens of millions of Americans as I write this who are working way too hard for $7.25/hour which is quite less than the cost of living anywhere in the United States. If a business owner or a corporation is knowingly paying a worker less than a living wage, I'm sorry, but that's exploitation. We can safely say that tens of millions of Americans get exploited every single effing day of the workweek. Such a system doesn't even deserve to continue functioning. Anything that revolves around greed and the enslavement of the many in order that the privileged few can enjoy more wealth than they can spend in several lifetimes needs to be removed as peacefully as possible but most importantly as soon as possible.

If the Occupy Wall Street folks hope to effect real, meaningful change that is worth sitting on a sidewalk and getting a cold ass in the autumn and wintertime then it cannot be something that restricts itself to milquetoast reform efforts which leave capitalism in place but instead needs to be something that has an end goal of the replacement of the capitalist wage slavery economic model with proletarian socialist worker ownership of the productive assets. We can only ensure that workers won't be exploited if businesses are transferred into the hands of the only people who we can be sure won't exploit them, the workers themselves. Only with worker ownership is it possible for the average American worker to have a real stake in the success of his or her workplace. Simply put, capitalism must be destroyed in order for America, and humanity in general, to have a decent future. Occupy Wall Street should settle for nothing less.

Great Summary of Choices...

The SAD American Meat Centered Diet is not only unnaturally cruel to animals [google CAFO Animal Factory Farms] & unhealthy for humans, but is also very destructive to the ecosphere. Moving away from the SAD Diet, GMO crops & industrialized farming- along w conservation & efficiency- must be considered if people are serious about preseving ecosphere & their own health & well-being.

Solar power can be used for more than just generating electricity - in many regions sunlite can be directly used to heat water & for cooking also.

For tidal power google 'Salters Duck'- Back in the 1980s its prototype converted ocean wave energy to mechanical energy at a max efficiency of 90%  & then mechanical to electricity again at a max efficiency of 90% - thus total max efficiency = 81%. Even if only about half that efficiency can be attained in practice [IE: 40% - 45%] that = the efficiency of a hi-efficiency diesel engine. But like the GM's electric car they've suppressed this technology.

Bio-gas produces methane gas, the cleanest burning hydro-carbon, & organic fertilizer [so we can move away from environmetally degrading petro-chem based fertilizers] from organic waste - so bio-gas addresses 3 issues [waste management, organic fertilizer & clean burning methane gas production {without poisonous hydro-fracking] using one simple technology. Plus bio-gas digesters & solar- panels / water-heaters / cookers -&- even wind turbines - are very scalable from the industrial- to the farm- to the neighborhood- to the home. Scalabity is important in order to get off of their grid & meter.


In order the radically [but non-violently] change or even bring down this system, we're going to have to seize power & control but NOT Necessarily Political Power! The current poly-trickal system is rigged - we've got about as much chance of making substantive changes via this rigged corp-controlled 2 party system [Corp Dims vis-a-vis Corp Repugs] as we've got at beating the house in a Vegas gambling casino! Thus- If the main Bankster banks are Citi-Bank, BoA Bank, Well Fargo Bank, etc - then we need to move our money out of these so-called 'Too Big to Fail' Bankster Banks- into local community banks & credit unions. They want us plugged into their {control}grid & meter which keeps us hooked on coal, oil, mined gas & nuke power- insuring they continue to get more profits & maintain control- thus we need to move toward more localized power via solar, bio-gas, wind, etc- which makes us less dependent on their control grid - as well as preserving the environment. Like-wise for food, we need to seize more of our power by growing more / most of our own food [or at-least buy from more local food producers] - making us less dependent on their adulterated industrialized food control chains [plus it would be healthier for us]. If enough people do this we can break their power- & it doesn't require voting in rigged elections either!

The Bottom 25%

Of course, even the middle class benefits unfairly from the bottom 25%, the poor and disenfranchised that nobody talks about. They are located in slums and rural areas, third world countries, Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa etc.

We have to recognize that the world was filled with war, concentrated wealth, and abject poverty for the past 6,000 years, ever since the advent of agriculture and surplus production. Okay, so even before that cavemen were bonking each other on the head. So there is only one direction that qualitative change can come from, going forward.

If this Occupy Wall Street movement doesn't give the bottom 25% a voice, or at least a consideration, then there can be no fundamental change.

I have not supported the unions for the past 30 years because all they cared for was themselves. A nice change would be if the movement placed equal importance on the "WE".

I wouldn't mind the bloody rich if it wasn't for the bloodied poor.

www.NotOneMore.US - Take the Pledge for Peace