Occupy This: Big lessons from the Big Apple

Over at World Streets we make a point of staying on topic — but here at Network Dispatches the approach is more personal and laid back, which gives me the possibility from time to time of stretching beyond our basic cities and mobility mandate. We live in a time of growing discontent in many parts of the world with the political processes and decisions which are being made through what can only be called, if you will, “old democracy”. So here today I am pleased to have the permission of my friend and colleague Hassaan Ghazali to share with you his thoughts on the challenge of active citizenry in his home country, Pakistan.

Big lessons from the Big Apple

People in Pakistan love to hate Uncle Sam. The Land of the Pure may have a troubled relationship with the Land of the Free, but we both forget our respective government policies can repress the masses with equal measure.

And despite our display of hatred towards America, Pakistanis certainly don’t waste much time in assimilating whatever strikes their fancy either. But if blue jeans and Hollywood just don’t do it for you anymore, look to the citizens of America for a primer on civil unrest in the twenty first century.

If you too have been feeling that the mutual antagonism our countries have been experiencing of late stems from the idea that that all Pakistanis read from Osama’s hymn sheet while all of America speaks for Dubya then you’d be right. But that’s wrong. It turns out that feelings of disenfranchisement and inequities bind us all, regardless of the colour of your passport.

You might not believe it but we share a lot in common with the people of America. The grass may look green on the other side when you’re struggling with a wayward government and twelve hour power outages, but when Americans are not enjoying the freedom of TiVo they tend to reflect on the state of their society as well. And not being content with watching some mindless talk show like we normally would, the people of America seem to have risen up with an Arab Spring in their step. And they call it the Occupy Movement.

Taking cue from the civil unrest in the Middle East, the Occupy Movement started on September 17th with a band of independent activists who harnessed print and social media to get people to occupy the heart of the financial services industry in America – Wall Street. It may just have been a hippy movement to be ignored by the mainstream media had it not been for the endorsement of the movement by the infamous hacker group Anonymous.

Best known for bringing the Guy Fawkes mask (seen in the movie “V for Vendetta”) into fashion, the alliance of Anonymous and the Occupy Movement has now caused many to sit up and take notice. Even your favourite columnist didn’t quite appreciate how popular protest had become until the attempt to purchase a Guy Fawkes mask online failed miserably. All stores were completely sold out.

There are many reasons that draw people to occupy Wall Street but there is one common undercurrent to them all. Americans are angry at the inequities prevalent in their society, and they want their voices to be heard. From wealth inequality, corporate greed, and joblessness to mortgage foreclosures and dependence on fossil fuels, protestors in the Occupy Movement may have different problems, but they all stem from a simple realisation that ninety nine per cent of the population doesn’t need to pay for the sins of the one per cent calling all the shots.

And this sentiment is not only echoed in over nine hundred cities across America, but is starting to catch on in other countries such as Australia and England as well. As the Occupy Movement picks up steam, it is clearly beginning to cement its position as a legitimate cross-border political movement.

As countries around the world watch the growing discontent in America, they have also leapt on the opportunity to chime in with their own take on the Occupy Movement. For example, China says that the protests have exposed fundamental problems with the economic and political systems in the United States, and that they show a clear need for Washington, which habitually rushes to demand other governments to change when there are popular protests in their countries, to put its own house in order. No surprise that North Korea, Iran and other countries have also followed suit.

But Pakistan doesn’t have to be a silent observer or a mere commentator in the uprising against business as usual.

Long have we been harbouring resentment against the inequities prevalent in our own society, and deploring the lack of means to resolve them. We rely on Janus-faced politicians and corrupt institutions to protect our public interest while a small minority holding the reins of power has a whale of a time at our expense. We lament the greed of profiteering industrialists (many of whom are elected to represent us) without holding them accountable for their misdeeds.

So the question for a nation of 160 million people is this – where to Occupy in Pakistan when you’re seething? Will it be Parliament, the Constitution Avenue, the Mall Road, or right outside your not-so-friendly stock exchange? Take your pick.

In order to take control of the future, you will need to turn off the talk show on TV and take to the streets to develop consensus. And here are some tips for the uninitiated. Start to channel your rage and resentment against those that neglect you. Get a Guy Fawkes mask if you can. Don’t forget to grab the mosquito repellent and most importantly – bring tents.

# # #

Hassaan Ghazali is a consultant on public policy. He lives and works in Lahore. His motto is: “When conditions are right, things go wrong.” This article appeared today in his op-ed column on the Occupy Movement which was published in Pakistan Today on 14 Oct, 2011  Reprinted here with the kind permission of the author .


2 thoughts on “Occupy This: Big lessons from the Big Apple

  1. I want to present an alternate POV I think has merit, even though I cannot give the “banksters” as much a pass as Schiff does and still would love to see some required to give back their lordly bonus checks and maybe watch a few egregious “crooks” do a perp walk.

    To quote the interview:

    “Investment U: Occupy Wall Street protesters have been in the news lately. Do you think they are targeting the right people in their protests?

    Schiff: Well, I think they are right to be frustrated. They are right to be protesting what’s happening, but they’re expressing their anger in the wrong direction.

    Wall Street is a symptom of what’s going on; the cause is Washington.

    They shouldn’t be occupying Wall Street. They should be occupying Washington. They should be on Pennsylvania Avenue protesting Congress, the White House, the Federal Reserve. That’s the problem, not Wall Street. Because if there was no government, there would have been no bailouts. You can’t blame Wall Street for asking for a bailout.

    After all, that’s what the March on Washington people want. They want the government to bail them out. But the problem isn’t that Wall Street asked for a bailout, the problem is that Washington gave it to them. Washington should have let the banks fail. That would have been capitalism. The irony of it is, the March on Washington movement is an anti-capitalist movement. They’re protesting capitalism, but what they’re really protesting is crony capitalism.

    If we had capitalism, none of the banks would have been bailed out. In fact, if we had capitalism, none of the problems that caused the banks to fail and need the bailouts would have existed in the first place. Capitalism would have prevented all this stuff from happening. [We have] a lack of capitalism. [What we have is] crony capitalism. It’s government interference and meddling in the economy that prevents capitalism from working. And that’s what has caused all the problems, and what the protestors are protesting.”

    I think Schiff’s dead right about “crony capitalism” but I do not believe we ever had a “free market” or anything near free-market capitalism politicians so blithely allude to when banging the anti-government gong. Keynes, Hayek, von Mises, Krugman–they’re all used as ideological palisades by different people grinding different axes.

    Schiff’s point–that Wall Street takes advantage of government’s regulatory laxness–is only half true. In many cases, as Greenspan at the Fed is seen to have “created’ the housing bubble, as the SEC failed to heed multiple specific, dire warnings of fraud or shady dealings, as Fed head Paulson strong-armed the Treasury out of $800 billion to “save” the financial system (and protect investors from losses by socializing the risk onto the backs of taxpayers)–these are all instances of how government and Wall Street collude or cooperate to keep the money-machine going that serves up millions to fund political candidates, who usually know on which side their bread is buttered. Much inchoate anger frustrates people here in the USA–and Wall Street has much to answer for as the system trembles.

    But the political impotence Americans have suffered with their eyes closed (or their attention on Dancing with the Stars or some such sit com diversion) is now becoming so apparent that frustration turns to rage. The problem is that this rage needs practical direction–else out come the Cossacks, enforcing “law.”. When it becomes lightening rod rage–as in the revolutions of 1840s Europe, the Bolshevik or National Socialists, look out. Wall Street and Washington DC would love see the anger dissipated and undirected. OWS needs focus, direction and precise targets. It needs a strategy that can win gains under the system we have, make change imperative. Now it is a dull roar. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?


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