Tuberculosis, Zuccotti lung, rape, murder, and assault — the various Occupy Wall Street protests nationwide have now seen almost everything. The autumn protests, which had some resonance with the American people who were burned by Wall Street and resent its bailouts and mega-bonuses that weren’t performance based, have degenerated into a wintery vagrancy and sixties-style street carnival.
It wasn’t ever a movement that could translate directly into political advantage the way the Tea Party led to the near-historic 2010 midterm upheavals, given its incoherence. For who exactly were the culpable 1 percent on Wall Street — liberal former governor Jon Corzine, under whose leadership MF Global’s speculation led to bankruptcy and a missing $600 million? Clintonite Jamie Gorelick, who took $26 million from a bankrupt Fannie Mae for her financial brilliance? The banking expert Rahm Emanuel who went in and out of the financial world rather quickly for his $16 million? Peter Orszag, who went through the revolving door from OMB to Citigroup in a wink? Franklin Rains, Chris Dodd (of Countrywide fame), Jim Johnson, or the profit-minded Pelosis? Perhaps George Soros, whose currency speculations nearly broke the Bank of England? What about Barack Obama, the largest recipient of Wall Street cash in history, a bounty that in part allowed him to be the first candidate in over 30 years to renounce public campaign financing?
Wall Street is insidious in ways that transcend the 401(k) plans of the middle classes. It is deeply embedded within the Washington–New York nexus, the Ivy League, and both the liberal and conservative political apparat. So the protesters never had clear targets, inasmuch as Wall Street money in 2008 went heavily for Obama, an expert in garnering Goldman Sachs and BP cash. Otherwise, its peripheral messages were incoherent or anarchic, and turned off rather than won over most Americans.
Occupy Wall Street did, however, raise one important issue: that of higher education and its role in increasing tuition and little commensurate education. So much of the angst in video clips and op-eds was voiced by a youthful upper middle class who went to the university, majored either in social science or liberal arts, piled up debt, faced almost no employment choices commensurate with their class and their educational brand — and thus were furious at the more profit-minded members of a like class for abandoning them.
Revolutionary movements throughout history are so often sparked by the anger, envy, and disappointments of an upper-middle cohort, highly educated, but ill-suited for material success in the existing traditional landscape.