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‘Occupy wall street’: Cometh the Western Spring?

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By Rotimi Fasan
WHILE writing on the UK riots last August, I had, here, traced some of the impulses that gave rise to the riots to certain economic and social inequities within the British society. I did not stop at that. I had extended my reading of the developments in the British society with regard to the riots to what I saw as related developments in other parts of Europe and America.

In what might have sounded then like an instance of scare-mongering, I had sought to draw a link between the riots and the Arab Spring that was nearing climax in Libya even as the authorities in Syria continued their brutal suppression of the sovereign will of their people.

After the close shave in his mansion that took him to Saudi Arabia for medical attention, Bashar al-Assad is yet to buckle.  Some kangaroo court in his control last week handed down harsh sentences to medical personnel it accused of treasonable conduct for providing care to individuals injured while taking part in protest against his regime.

The jury is yet out on how the Syrian crisis might finally end. But there can be no doubt that Syria will never remain the same nor would Assad go scot free. Although still far from clear, there are signs that Europe and America might be experiencing their version of the mass discontent that impelled the Arab Spring.

From Greece where youths have taken to the streets to protest against massive job loss and indeed unemployment following state-induced austerity measures, to Spain’s groaning economy, things look dire in Europe.

Britain is lost for an answer even as France makes middling attempt to put things right. But for Germany, matters might have boiled over. Even here, too, Angela Merkel nearly got her fingers burnt as she narrowly escaped revolt in her party. Otherwise, the story should be very different now.

America, bastion of capitalism, comes increasingly within the heart of the economic chaos currently ravaging Europe. The youths are restive and angry at their leaders. The mass discontent across the country is being giving a face by the growing movement of angry young men and women who have been protesting around Wall Street in the last few weeks.

What began like a child’s play, a local incidence limited to New York, is now spreading like foul air across American cities.  Young Americans, no longer content to endure what they see as the greed of the rich, symbolised by the big corporations and banks that populate Wall Street, are taking matters into their own hands in order to safeguard their own future and secure their cut of the American Dream that has become a nightmare for many of them.

With tales of foreclosures, increasing joblessness and massive student loans to pay, the youths feel shut out of the proverbial dream that is there for the bold and resourceful. The Tea Party and their billionaire supporte
rs might soon discover to their shame that a revolution, such as is gradually building across America, is certainly not a tea party as Mao warned decades ago.

The solidarity that has bonded these youths together, the readiness to forgo immediate comfort in order to make a better future, the resourcefulness that has seen them pouring out of different cities to join the growing throng outside Wall Street are what might yet turn the Street into another Tahir Square.

The social media are once more alive and in these age and time, the youths may not need more than these to effect what could redefine the face of capitalism in a manner Marx never imagined.  And what is the inspiration for this current movement? The Arab Spring!

With the battle cry of ‘Occupy Wall Street’, the youths are calling for a total rejection of the greed that has seen bankers not only profiting but raking in indecent profits in an inclement economic climate they created almost singlehandedly.

The mess these bankers created from engaging in unseemly insider deals that saw them falsifying figures to create the illusion of growth for businesses gone comatose- such mess would be the model for Nigerian bankers with their ‘round tripping’ and other unethical deals that would eventually bring the entire economy down on its heels.

Massive bailouts

With tax payers’ funds, as happened with the recapitalisation for distressed banks here, the American government provided massive bailouts for these huge corporations bankrupted by greedy bankers in the main. Rather than use the bailouts responsibly, the deal makers on Wall Street went on to pay themselves huge sums as compensation- for what really?

What further evidence is needed to show the greed of Wall Street? Yet millions of Americans are poor and out of job. They lose medical cover and default on student and mortgage loans. But now they are saying enough is enough and those who have ears in that society would do well to listen or have reasons to regret their action later.

The matter is getting gradually beyond Obama whose earlier initiatives to address fundamental issues of the American economy were spurned by Republican toughs, especially the Tea Party, who have turned the American society into one in which the poor must starve in order to oil the cloying palates of the rich.

The insensitivity of the wealthy minority, backed by political power, is what young Americans are protesting against in their Wall Street sit-out. Let the reader ponder on my concluding comment on the UK riots in August:

The West should prepare for more of this as laws are continually fashioned that favour the very rich at the expense of society’s poor. The crumbling economies of Europe, of such countries as Greece and Spain and the introduction of austerity measures across the continent are the early warning signs.

The ascendance and intransigence of ultra right groups such as the Tea Party in the US will ultimately push the poor majority of the so-called civilised world to the barricades and we would all find out just how civilised that ‘civilised world’ is.

Republican insistence on cuts on government spending while giving lavish tax cuts to the rich and impoverishing young Americans would in due course boil over. It may for now sound so farfetched but what is happening in the UK might be the beginning of the West’s version of what is now generally called the Arab Spring.

Things may not take that shape immediately. But they might over time. Those who imagine that such eruptions could only happen in Africa of sit-tight leaders; those who fail to see the connection between such unrest and the enactment of corrupt policies that impoverish the vast majority would not see the point in this. But such would be surprised in no distant time.

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