Wall Street occupiers need a rethink on strategy

06 November 2011 - 04:51 By Lihle Z Mtshali

THE Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement in lower Manhattan enters its eighth week and before they go any further, the occupiers need to either re-evaluate their strategy or go home.

I do not agree with those who say the movement has been a complete waste of time. On the contrary, I believe they have opened a lot of necessary conversations around the world. Their anger and frustration at the status quo in the US, coupled with their action, could influence public policy.

Bank of America was planning to charge its customers a $5 monthly debit card fee. People were outraged, more than 30000 signed an online petition to stop the planned fee and over 21 000 pledged to close their cheque accounts. Take note, South African banks: because of this criticism the bank decided to reverse the decision. Some of those who protested the fee have said they were motivated by the OWS crowd.

I do believe, however, the occupiers need a clearer set of objectives to send their message to the right people.

I understand the people's outrage at the havoc wreaked by big banks on the US's economy and I fully support their cause simply because, coming from SA, I understand what kind of positive impact such movements can have on a nation.

But after two months of camping in Zuccotti Park, we still don't really know what they plan to do and how long they will occupy the park. Initially, the New York City General Assembly, the main decision-making body for OWS, adopted a "Declaration of the Occupation of New York City" with a list of grievances.

Then two break-away groups - the Demands Working Group and the Liberty Square Blueprint - decided that that was not enough and put themselves in charge of drawing up other demands.

Somewhere out of that chaos has emerged a list of demands which has been criticised and ridiculed at every turn. The occupiers basically want redistribution of income from top earners, or the 1% of the population, to the 99% through a wealth tax; they are asking for bailouts for people who have home and student loans; they are demanding the creation of 25-million new public sector jobs with union wages, less influence by corporates on politics and trade barriers to keep jobs in the US.

They also want guaranteed quality healthcare, university education and pensions for everyone.

Some of the most extreme criticism has been from the likes of Sarah Palin, who said this week: "They say 'Wall Street fat cats got a bailout so now I want one too.' And the correct answer is no one is entitled to a bailout,"; to conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh's: "When I was 10 I was more self-sufficient than this parade of human debris calling itself Occupy Wall Street."

In the occupiers' defence, scholar Cornel West said: "It's impossible to translate the issue of the greed of Wall Street into one demand, or two demands. We're talking about a democratic awakening."

That may explain it, but they still need a plan. It's been really cold, especially at night, and this past weekend we were hit by the biggest-ever October snowstorm. And it's not even winter yet.

The occupiers need to do something that will make the people they are targeting sit up and listen. Right now Wall Street executives, Washington politicians and right-wing pundits simply see a noisy bunch of hippies smoking pot.

It gets worse when you hear news of the occupiers rushing to nearby government clinics to get treated for sexually transmitted diseases because they have been sharing more than ideals in those tents. There are also disturbing reports of sexual assaults in the park.

If I had the ear of one of the OWS lieutenants, I would advise them to put on one majorly disruptive, albeit peaceful, event that would make a difference and then go home.

Maybe if they formed a human chain at the stock exchange doors first thing on Monday and refused to let anybody in, Wall Street would actually feel the impact where it hurts the most.