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Occupy A New Conversation

America is a tale of two economies: one serves Wall Street, and the other is accountable to the rest of us. Which one will we choose?

OWS Photo by Doctor Tongs

Photo by Doctor Tongs.

Occupy Wall Street announced itself to the world September 17, 2011, when a thousand people gathered in New York’s famed Wall Street financial district. Modest by the standards of mass protest, it was largely ignored by media.

Within a month the protest—inspired in part by the Egyptian occupation of Tahrir Square and other protests of the “Arab Spring”—involved hundreds of thousands of people in hundreds of encampments in the United States and around the world. It had become a major media event, and attracted hundreds of millions of sympathizers. An October 11 poll found that 54 percent of Americans had a favorable opinion of the protest and overwhelmingly agreed that:

  • Wall Street and lobbyists have too much influence in Washington (86 percent)
  • The gap between the rich and poor in the United States is too large (79 percent)
  • Executives of financial institutions responsible for the financial meltdown in 2008 should be prosecuted (71 percent)
  • The rich should pay more in taxes (68 percent).

Wall Street is the symbolic center of an economic system that works for the richest 1% at the expense of the  other 99% and uses its outsized financial and media muscle to corrupt government and deepen the divide.

Occupy Wall Street protesters want a future for themselves and their children. They want an economic system that works for everyone. They want a government that answers to everyone. Do they have a clear plan? No. But they have a deep faith in our ability as a nation to work it out through democratic dialogue. Their accomplishment is already monumental.

They have forced the corporate media machine to focus national attention on Wall Street banks and corporations as the primary threat to U.S. prosperity and security. This opens the window for a much-needed national conversation on the economy’s purpose, values, and structure.

The Beginning is Near, photo by Cory Doctorow
After the Eviction: What's Next?

What does the Occupy movement do when its flagship occupation is, at least for now, gone?

America is a tale of two economies. The Wall Street economy answers only to faceless financial markets and is devoted to financial deception, manipulation, and speculation to maximize financial returns to its most powerful players. The Main Street economy is directly accountable to real people who have a natural interest in building healthy communities with thriving local economies and natural environments.

After the Wall Street economy drove the nation into the Great Depression of the 1930s, Americans put in place rules to constrain Wall Street and strengthen Main Street. This shifted economic power from Wall Street financiers to Main Street entrepreneurs who view the creation of jobs as essential to their business success and have a natural interest in contributing to the health and prosperity of their communities.

America went on to build a strong middle class, lead the world in industry and technology, and make the American Dream of a secure and comfortable life in return for hard work and playing by the rules a reality for a substantial majority of Americans.

Wall Street interests mobilized in the 1970s to dismantle the restrictions on their power. It was class war and Wall Street won. The Forbes Magazine list of the world’s billionaires set two records in 2011: total number (1,210) and combined wealth ($4.5 trillion—equal to the German GDP).

The America envisioned in the Declaration of Independence is still a work in progress. It is time to declare our national independence from Wall Street and change the rules to shift power from the 1% Wall Street economy to Main Street economies that work for all.


David KortenDavid Korten wrote this article for The Breakthrough 15, the Winter 2012 issue of YES! Magazine. David  is the author of Agenda for a New Economy, The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community, and the international bestseller When Corporations Rule the World. He is co-founder and board chair of YES! Magazine and co-chair of the New Economy Working Group.

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