The Wall Street investment banking crisis of 2008 has spawned two populist movements devoted to changing the way business is done in Washington D.C. and on Wall Street.
The most recent is the Occupy Wall Street movement that began in Zucotti Park in Lower Manhattan's financial district and has spread to dozens of other cities around the United States. Although essentially a populist movement energized through email and social media, Occupy Wall Street began as an initiative of an established left-wing organization called Adbusters Media Foundation. Their website describes itself as:
"as global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators, and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new social activist movement of the information age. Our aim is to topple existing power structures and forge a major shift in the way we will live in the 21st century."
The organization characterizes our current way of living as a debilitating "consumerism" that is not only bad for people, but also bad for the natural environment that sustains it.
In their traditional Marxist view, the organization sees establishment power structures such as governments, corporations, and the media as the source of an ideology behind consumerism. This ideology blinds citizens to the truth about reality and substitutes a false consciousness. Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci described this as "cultural hegemony."
Adbusters does not use traditional political techniques for effecting change. Instead, they try to make people conscious of the ideology behind consumerism and free them from it in order to see social reality the way they say it really is, that is, the Marxist way. Consequently, they have promoted such social marketing campaigns as Buy Nothing Day and Digital Detox Week to create a new consumer consciousness following the model of Marx's desire to create a new "working class consciousness" to free themselves for the ideology established by capitalists.
During the summer of 2011, Adbusters came up with the idea of rallying on Wall Stret to protest corporate influence in government and politics and the growing disparity in wealth. They suggested September 17, Constitution Day, as the day to begin the protests. And savvy media foundation that they are, they acquired domain rights to domain names OccupyWallstreet.Org and OccupyWS.Org.
A thousand protesters gathered in New York that first day. Over the next several days the crowd swelled. In addition, several occupation movements gathered in other American cities. Uncertainty remains about just what specific goals it seeks and how long it will last.
In general, the public has been divided over the movement just as they were divided over the Tea Party Movement. In fact, one of the most frequent generalizations made about the OWS movement is that it is a leftwing or Democratic Party version of the Tea Party.
The next post will examine that generalization.