Wednesday, 26 October 2011

What do the Wall St occupiers want?

The Occupy Wall St movement is doing an admirable job of galvanizing people from around the world, but it's struggling. Unless it changes direction it's doomed and within a matter of weeks it will begin fizzing out towards an inglorious and anticlimactic end.

Why? One reason: It has no obvious set of demands. Despite being modelled on the Arab Spring, the Arab movement is a completely different ballgame because the protesters know exactly what they want and so does everyone else. Their demands are simple, clear and obvious – their leaders should stand down and hold democratic elections. Anyone can understand that and everyone knows what needs to happen.

The Occupy protesters have nothing of the sort. I've seen the banners - they say things like "End Corporate Greed". Fair enough, that's a sentiment most of us share, but exactly how should we do that? Who do you want to act and exactly what action do you want them to take? It's unlikely that corporations will change their greedy practices just because you ask them to, so maybe you want politicians to introduce some new laws to force them to give up greed? If so, exactly what new laws do you want?

I visited occupywallst.org, scrolled down the entire home page and couldn't see a single clear demand for anything. All I saw was advice on how to be a nuisance, and a bunch of complaints about the economy that are so vague it's just noise. This is worse than pointless, it makes the protesters look like a motley gathering of whiners who can't decide what they want.

Speaking of how the protesters look, it doesn't help when some people hijack the cause to promote their own agendas such as drug law reform. Although I'm inclined to agree with those of you asking for such reform, please take those issues elsewhere and don't taint the Occupy movement. Remember, not all the occupiers agree with you and it's not fair to make it seem that they do.

By the way, I know some people portray the Occupy movement as constructive rather than protest-oriented, which would be nice if it was realistic (don't get me started on the viability of an alternative currency), but the fact is that it's perceived as a protest by most of those involved and pretty much everyone else. And that's fine – its best chance of success is to use the protest model, assuming it can get the critical mass needed to sway public and political opinion.

So the real task for the occupiers is to create a clearer message and, most importantly, a list of reasonable demands that the public will support and politicians will find difficult to ignore.

I don't have all the answers but here's one suggestion to get the ball rolling:

  • "No employee of any company shall receive an income more than 10 times the income of that company's lowest-paid employee."

Call it The Ten Times Rule or The 10% Rule to make it catchy. Although the devil would be in the details, the principle of the rule is quite clear and would be seen as fair by most rational people. It's a demand you can present to politicians. It's even an issue that could get corporate buy-in; for example, compliant companies could advertise "We support the 10% Rule". Search for exectitive pay to learn more about this issue.

I'm sure all you creative and knowledgeable people out there can come up with half a dozen similarly simple rules to cover the main problems with capitalism. I'm thinking of issues like:

  • Legal tax evasion.
  • Shonky manufacturing, including obsolescence-by-design.
  • Excessive profit from non-productive activity (e.g. automated sharemarket transactions, patent trolling, etc).
  • Corporate influence in government elections.

We need a list of the most important issues that need fixing, with nice catchy headings. Put this list on the occupywallst.org home page and change all the feel-good-but-ultimately-meaningless banners to point to this list.

A revolution needs a well-defined goal. Vagueness is the enemy. To the occupiers I say: Your demands need clarity and simplicity – it's too easy for politicians to ignore you when it's not clear what you're asking them to do. We need you to clarify your demands and champion them on behalf of those of us who can't be there. Change the message from "We're unhappy" to "This is what we want to happen."

Good luck. We need it.

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