You know, at times you have to marvel at American hegemony and the ease with which it, seemingly, is able to occupy (no pun intended) the global space; whether in popular culture, (to some degree) sport and politics. The globe’s fascination with “the land of the free” has led to others thinking that “if it hasn’t happened in America, it’s not worth knowing about.” How else would you explain the global imitation of the “Occupy Wall Street” (OWS), a protest by aggrieved Americans at what bankers have done to their economy and, by extension, that of the world, that began in the middle of September in the engine room of the capitalist machinery? Why didn’t we see people camped outside their respective commercial hubs such as London, Frankfurt, Sydney, Rome and the like when the Greeks were raising hell in Athens or when the members Indignados movement of Spain voiced out their anger against austerity measures 6 months ago and when students in Chile and Puerto Rico were marching against exorbitant tuition fees? Where was the fuss?
South Africa, true to its imitating syndrome, has also found the “OWS” bandwagon too great a temptation to resist. So, on the weekend of the October 15 and 16, “Occupy JSE” protests were organized largely by…wait for it…the middle class citizens of the republic. When did they grow the balls to disturb the tranquil everyday life of Sandton, when “OWS” began trending on twitter? I guess when the prospect of a lifestyle sustained by credit begins to crumble, you’re bound to lose it, justifiably so. These are in the main the same people who are quick to flood the Talk Radio 702 and SAfm with complaints about the ‘unnecessary’ strikes that are forever embarked on by members of union federation COSATU. Have you ever seen people of the middle and upper classes bother themselves with the concerns of Abahlali baseMjondolo or picketing with the Landless People’s Movement? Most poor people’s lives have always been in a recession. They, for quite a while now, have been the dark story to coin of capitalist opulence. Their hopeless and frustrations didn’t suddenly jump on to them when they accidentally caught New Yorkers protesting on CNN or Sky News on their R10 000 plus plasma television set while they were channel hop their premium DStv bouquet. We never saw “Occupy JSE” brigade sympathize with former employees of mining multi-nations that camped outside parliament with the hope that their cries for unpaid services would be heard and acted upon. Now, there’s nothing wrong with privileged South Africans wanting something different from the market-friendly policies, if, of course, that’s what they want. If that’s the case, then, the next logical question would be whether or not they are willing to “go big or go home” on this contentious economic issue? It’s quite convenient to hold a placard that reads “down with the 1% enjoying the global wealth” but it’s a lot harder to debate private property rights. In the Daily Maverick-published piece on the “Occupy JSE”, Osiame Molefe and Chris De Wet illustrated the contrasting class characters that supported the protest thus:”As they left, white demonstrators said they had to go feed their pets, joked about caffein withdrawal, or said they had social obligations. Some promised to be back, some took proudly-smiling pictures of themselves. Those who had travelled in from distant townships said they had families to look after, or jobs to get to, or local protests to plan. “I can’t afford to stand here all day doing nothing,” said a young man who, weeks before, had been involved in violent battles with police in Themb’elihle.”
That the capitalist order is facing its most grilling litmus test is a matter of fact, a self-inflicted one at that. So, the change that is sought, would it be something along the lines of socialism or merely a more regulated neo-liberal global economic strategy? Those are the kinds of articulations that have reportedly have been found wanting in these Wall Street inspired protests. If these ‘trending’ protests don’t develop clear alternative positions then they may very well run the risk of invalidating struggles of many more people who’ve been at the front line of organizing themselves and like-minded constituencies in an attempt to build a formidable political alternative to this greed of ‘Las Vegas’ economic system that chooses to be free-market orientated when it’s convenient to it. We speak about the “martkets” as if it’s a group of beasts that will plunge the world into chaos when we decide to cast the net of healthcare a bit further or when we implement programmes that mitigate the ever yawing income inequalities gaps of our republic. This “profits at all cost” mentality of the free market system is, to quote The Joker is Batman:Dark Knight, “an agent of chaos”. The economic guru, Nouriel Roubini cautions that “Any economic model that does not properly address inequality will eventually face a crisis of legitimacy. Unless the relative economic roles of the market and the state are rebalanced, the protests of 2011 will become more severe, with social and political instability eventually harming long-term economic growth and welfare.” Hash tag activists adopt trending protests when the legitimate anti- Washington Consensus activists don’t act. So, will those occupying the deficit of capital please stand up?