Wall-Street Protestors: What is Really Progressive?

Glen T. Martin


As the Wall-Street protests begin to attract world-wide attention after 20 days of creative protest actions (with the help of New York City police mismanagement and brutality), other cities across the nation have begun similar protests.  People with faces painted white like Wall-Street zombies, with hands full of fake cash, paraded down the Street.  Many articles in the progressive internet press have appeared defending the idea that the protestors really do have demands in the face of what may seem like an outburst of spontaneous rage against the machine. But others accuse the protestors of exhaling mountains of hot air with no organization or coherent set of demands.

The analysis here does not come from the ideological right, as, for example, from the zombie fake news service called FOX. It comes from a deeply progressive point of view that attempts to discern events in the light of our global system and its deleterious consequences for the majority of humanity and our planetary ecosystem. Our lethal problems are not simply a consequence of Wall-Street. They are a consequence of a global system of exploitation and domination that must be transformed on a planetary scale.

 Like the Paris Commune of 1871, the “General Assembly” of the New York City protests, through “participatory democracy,” arrived at its official statement issued on September 29, which reads in part:


As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies. As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known. (Occupy Wall Street.mm. 9/29/11)


There followed a list of the many abuses that the rich have inflicted on ordinary citizens in the United States.  No demands, no coherent program of change, simply a list of abuses.  More than one article, however, has been widely circulated to address the charge that the protestors have no coherent demands or program. One claimed that the demands boiled down to the restoration of real democracy within the country, as if a country dominated by the rich for more than 200 years ever had “real democracy.” Another writer, Kerry Picket of the Washington Times, lifted 13 demands from one of the Occupy Wall-Street websites.  These included providing a living wage, a national single-payer healthcare system, a guaranteed annual income for all citizens, a fast-track conversion to alternative energy, honest, accountable elections in the US, the ending Wall-Street’s foreign wars, and conversion of a trillion dollars in saved war-money to education and infrastructure within the US.

These demands are clearly coherent and could be easily accomplished if it were not for the global system that obviates these possibilities through systematic domination and exploitation of the bottom 90% of the world by the top 10%, a worldwide phenomenon not limited to the United States.  The protestors indeed have the passion of an outraged population behind them that has the police and FBI worried, the FBI claiming on October 4 that they will use “all necessary means” to keep the protests from becoming violent.  Translated into less deceptive language, the FBI and Police throughout the country are on alert to use the immense violence at their disposal to protect the system of exploitation and domination (a system of horrific structural violence) at all costs.

Their violence is legitimate, but any responsive violence on the part of the poor and disenfranchised will be met with even harsher forms of repression. In the face of this vast system of institutionalized violence protected by the US government with the violence of its militarized forces of repression, calls to protest like that of award winning journalist Chris Hedges appear Quixotic: 


There are no excuses left. Either you join the revolt taking place on Wall Street and in the financial districts of other cities across the country or you stand on the wrong side of history. Either you obstruct, in the only form left to us, which is civil disobedience, the plundering by the criminal class on Wall Street and accelerated destruction of the ecosystem that sustains the human species, or become the passive enabler of a monstrous evil. Either you taste, feel and smell the intoxication of freedom and revolt or sink into the miasma of despair and apathy. Either you are a rebel or a slave.  (Truthdig.org 9/30/11)


As Socrates replies to a similar outburst in Plato’s Crito, such passion would indeed be admirable if it were informed by the voice of reason and accurate analysis of the situation. Otherwise, it leads us nowhere or perhaps into folly. Voices speaking from the larger perspective of the historic class struggle, like Michael Parenti, remind the protestors that the larger framework in the struggle is capitalism itself: Once we learn to talk about the realities of class power, we are on our way to talking critically about capitalism, another verboten word in the public realm. And once we start a critical discourse about capitalism, we will be vastly better prepared to act against it and defend our own democratic and communal interests. (readersupportednews.org. 10/3/11).

However, most of these voices from the fantasy world of the American left emanate from a so-called progressive agenda that is hopelessly anachronistic and confused.  Hints revealing their confusion pop-up now and then in the Wall-Street discourse.  The official statement quoted above states that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members. Imagine that?  Americans cooperating with other oppressed peoples throughout the world?  An article posted at Portside.org on 10/3/11 is entitled “The Wall-Street Protestors and the Making of a Global Counterculture.” Again, recognition that the capitalist system, intertwined with the system of so-called sovereign nation-states, is a planetary system.

The protestors seemingly recognize that the problem is global and requires a global solution. However, like all good Americans (including their right-wing counterparts) they know in their gut that America is the key to all the world’s problems.  American exceptionalism pulses through the veins and arteries of their so-called progressive consciousness.  Just as the US assumes the “right” to preemptively invade or overthrow any country that opposes its global “national interests,” so the US left believes that the list of demands outlined above could by some miracle be implemented while leaving the rest of humankind in the same living hell dominated by a global elite in a planetary system of exploitation and domination.

Simply stated: the problem is planetary and the solution must be planetary. The left understands that government is a key factor in the capitalist onslaught of the wealthy against the rest of us. They have repeatedly pointed out that Wall-Street has colonized our government and purchased the loyalty of most of our elected officials.  One of the accusations on the “official statement” above is “they have donated large sums of money to politicians, who are responsible for regulating them.” If government is responsible for regulating the global investors and corporations, then what good is “the making of a global counterculture”? A counterculture is not democratic government but a mere cultural force protesting the corruption of government and governments worldwide. What we need is good government throughout the world, with the real democratic mandate to transform the global system of domination and exploitation by the rich, a system which is today also protected by the majority of governments whom the rich have colonized.  If the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members, then we should ask what is clearly the preeminent, most organized, and most effective mode of human cooperation?  Democratic government.

There will be no end to the horrific onslaught against the people of Earth, unless we Americans join in real solidarity with the people of Earth to create democratic planetary government with the global authority to control the Wall-Streets of every corner on Earth and bring the rule of law to the people of Earth by ending war, ensuring planetary health care, and protecting the well-being of the Earth and its citizens.

The World Constitution and Parliament Association (WCPA) has been working toward this end since 1958, having long transcended the arrogance of American exceptionalism and understood that there can be no solution unless there is a planetary solution. We are in progressive solidarity with the people of Earth, not only the people screwed by Wall-Street within the United States.  World citizens from nations around the world have created a beautiful and brilliant Constitution for the Federation of Earth (www.worldproblems.net), which guarantees to all people on Earth exactly what the demands of the official Occupy Wall-Street web site quoted above want for the people of the US: healthcare, decent wages, environmental protection, education for all, peace and not endless wars, and regulation and control of the economy in the service of ordinary people.

It is time the American left woke up from its fantasy world premised on the mythology of American exceptionalism and superiority.  It is time we all became world citizens and took real action to address the real root of our global problems.  There can be no solution to our lethal problems without global democratic government ending exploitation and guaranteeing a decent life to all citizens of the Earth.


Glen T. Martin is professor of philosophy at Radford University in Virginia and Secretary-General of the World Constitution and Parliament Association.  His most recent book is “The Earth Federation Movement – Founding a Social Contract for the People of Earth” (2011).

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