[Viewpoint] A dubious occupation

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[Viewpoint] A dubious occupation

Anti-corporate protesters have camped out in New York’s financial district for more than a month. In reaction, similar movements sprouted in more than 900 cities in 80 countries on Oct. 15, which marked the end of the first month of the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon.

That amply demonstrated the movement’s contagious nature. Tents and placards are now commonplace in Manhattan and “occupation” has become the label for any similar protest around the world.

But even if they use the same name, the protests are different from city to city, country to country. Even a single group of protesters is sometimes against different things.

The Occupy Wall Street movement tried to inspire 99 percent of the population to stand up against the wealthiest 1 percent - primarily the greedy Wall Street financial capitalists - to demand more equality in wealth through policy reforms. In Paris and Madrid, youths fed up with the struggle to find jobs cry out for employment.

In Greece, civilians protesting the government’s austerity measures and cuts in welfare to shore up the country’s budget as a part of bailout package have joined the chorus of protest.

In Seoul, street activists are trying to exploit the global protest phenomenon to object to various unrelated issues ranging from the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, painfully expensive college tuition and labor issues.

Few can now pinpoint a primary issue that is at the center of the protests. The demands are sporadic and ambiguous. At the physical epicenter, Wall Street, the protesters that moved into Zuccotti Park without specific goals or any kind of leadership, obeying the siren call of Facebook and Twitter, have, over the last month, become more systematic in directing their protest.

The working group that came out with the “99 percent declaration” is slowly building a consensus on the issues to be addressed, tightening their organization and specifying action plans in the hope of emerging as some kind of political force.

Just because these protests are joined by many and play out for a certain length of time does not necessarily make them just or accepted by society as a whole. The novel way they have chosen to demonstrate does not signify a revolution in the making. The Wall Street protests have not secured a broad consensus or sympathy from the public. They are nothing like the civilian revolts against despotic regimes in Africa and the Middle East.

Thousands may be congregating in New York, but they still amount to a tiny minority of the American population. They have the media spotlight but do not represent 99 percent of Americans. The majority of Americans have refrained from taking a stand on the movement.

Many remain skeptical that the Occupy movement could be a tipping point in revolutionizing American society. Some eye the protests as nothing more than a left-wing version of the Tea Party movement. They can be viewed as a group making self-serving demands that claims - with no evidence - that they represent the voice of the populace.

The crucial weakness of the Occupy movement is that it is a protest without focus or alternatives to offer. Their challenges to corporate greed and neoliberalism may provide comfort to jobless individuals and families struggling to make ends meet. But they provide no answers in terms of coming up with jobs and food.

The lives of 99 percent of any population will not get any better if Wall Street crumbles and the wealthiest 1 percent are battered. Financial wizards and neoliberalism cannot be entirely blamed for today’s global economic crisis or inequalities. Wall Street may have fattened the pockets of the wealthy, but at the same time it is one of the most competitive industries in the U.S., generating work for the middle class and financing pension funds for Americans.

Neoliberalism, which champions open markets and liberalized trade, has been the driving force behind American growth since the Ronald Reagan administration. Economic inequalities in the U.S. were worse in the past. The financial crisis underscored the need to overhaul the financial industry and redirect economic policy, but discarding the old ways altogether will not do any good.

It is always easy to oppose. But to make a difference, it is more important to present an alternative. Just because a group of people cry out for reform, the world does not change. Such demands are meaningless if they are not backed up by strong logic and feasible alternatives.

Occupation movements should be accompanied by a meticulous command strategy. Strategyless and leaderless mobs only bring chaos. Command must be accompanied by accountability. Occupation without any plan or ability to change is immature. It is bound to be unsuccessful and unworthy of our attention.

What such rallies do provide is a kind of release for public anger and frustration. With the original Occupy Wall Street campaign raising so many questions, there is real need to worry about where copycat occupation movements could lead.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Kim Jong-soo
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