When news of a protest to "Occupy Wall Street" began gaining traction a couple of weeks ago, it was easy to dismiss. The photos of a few hundred protesters had all the trappings one might expect from your friendly neighborhood left-wing activists. Banners of hammer and sickles and anti-capitalist slogans affirmed initial impressions that the group was largely illiterate on economic issues, and, fairly radical, as demonstrated by the militaristic nature of their name. Nevertheless, the protests persisted and grew larger, the outdated signs of communist iconography were soon overwhelmed by more sophisticated criticisms of bankers and their continued dispersal of outlandish bonuses, as the rest of America, or the other 99% as the protesters call themselves, suffered. The new message that was taking root was a much more powerful one, resonating on a much deeper level across ideological lines, reflecting a general perception that the economic and political elites had sold their people short, that there's a system for the rich and well connected and a system for everyone else, a view commonly shared by both liberals and conservatives. And it's hard to argue with such a stance when no one went to jail for the financial crimes that helped lead the global economy to the precipice of a second great depression in 2008.
With momentum growing, protests began taking a life of their own this week. On Wednesday, photos of New York city streets crammed with millennials and union people gave the group a new credibility, highlighting the deep dissatisfaction of the general public with the state of the economy and a declining standard of living. So real is the message, that sympathy protest have begun spawning across North America. While many commentators have compared the movement to the "Arab Spring", cultural critic Douglas Rushkoff has gone so far as to call it "America’s first true Internet-era movement":
In fact, we are witnessing America’s first true Internet-era movement, which — unlike civil rights protests, labor marches, or even the Obama campaign — does not take its cue from a charismatic leader, express itself in bumper-sticker-length goals and understand itself as having a particular endpoint.
While the similarities of the protests in North Africa are well founded, in so far as they've been fueled by economic distress, social media and political frustration, I would take issue with Rushkoff's contention that the "Occupy Wall St." protesters represent "America's first true Internet movement". In fact, the first true Internet political movement in America was Ron Paul's 2008 Republican presidential campaign, whose grassroots anti-establishment message later morphed into the Tea Party, a largely inchoate group of individuals dissatisfied with the false choice of the two headed political system and ever increasing taxes. As well, the group maintained a strong disdain for the mainstream media, who could no longer be trusted, as was demonstrated in the media's biased and arrogant treatment of Ron Paul during the campaign. Eventually the Republican party managed to co-opt the group in name, fearful of losing grassroots conservatives to a new party; nonetheless, the original anti-establishment spirit remains undiminished.
However, Rushkoff is right in describing the political movement as one that "does not take its cue from a charismatic leader, express itself in bumper-sticker-length goals and understand itself as having a particular endpoint". Although, both the Tea Party and "Occupy Wall St." movements have conservative and liberal roots, I would argue they're, in fact, different factions of one and the same political movement, one which no longer believes in the ability of the current political system to fix its problems. I would further maintain that the "Occupy Wall Street" protest is, in fact, a continuation of the orginal Tea Party movement, not a response to it. The issues that animate both movements transcend 20th century ideological frameworks, as Rushkoff rightly points out. "It is difficult to comprehend a 21st century movement from the perspective of the 20th century politics, media, and economics in which we are still steeped," and any attempts to brandish either movement as liberal or conservative will utimately fail. Witness the prominence of "End the Fed" protest signs at the "Occupy Wall St." protest and calls for bringing manufacturing back to America as real examples of galvanizing issues that resist classic political categorization. If the unions attempt to hijack the "Occupy Wall St." movement as the Republican party tried with the Tea Party, they will ultimately fail. As @OccupyWallSt tweeted on Wednesday night, "We're beyond the Republican Democrat dichotomy".
So, one might ask, what is the nature of this new political force? Earlier this week, Ralph Nader reiterated his call for a progressive libertarian alliance with Ron Paul, after making the plea in a joint interview with Paul on Fox's "Freedom Watch" earlier in January. Nader cited the significant overlap between both factions, including Paul's views on the “Military budget, foreign wars, empire, Patriot Act, corporate welfare—for starters," claiming "When you add those all up, that’s a foundational convergence. Progressives should do so good.” Nader listed “the self-defeating, boomeranging drug war” as another strong shared conviction of both progressives and libertarians. Watch the video of an "Occupy Wall St." protester calling to "End the Fed" and to support Ron Paul:
Perhaps the biggest hurdle each faction has to leap in order to create a true marriage is their view of capitalism. As long as the progressives continue to see capitalism as an evil, there will be no alliance. What they need to keep in mind is that the massive bailout of the banks was not a true reflection of capitalism; in fact, it was just the opposite. A truly capitalist system would have allowed the "too big to fails" to go bankrupt, clearing the way for more efficient, smaller players to buy up the remaining assets. It would have also let the housing market crash hard, making homes affordable once again for the middle class and ruining the real estate sharks permanently. And don't think that our solutions can be found in a simple redistribution of resources, either, as the reality is such that we have entered a period of resource scarcity, which is a large reason for our current economic distress, as Chris Martenson demonstrates in his fascinating YouTube series, "The Crash Course". Libertarians, on the other hand, need to recognize the practicality of some government regulation. To suggest, as Ron Paul did in a recent Republican debate, that we should privatize Air Traffic Control towers, might sound tempting according to Libertarian theory, but in practice it sounds like a recipe for disaster.
Prominent trend forecaster Gerald Celente was the first to predict the rise of a progressive libertarian political movement back in 2009, and like so many of his other outlandish predictions, this one may very well come true.