Ideologically, the protesters stand as one in voicing their discontent over the inequalities of the global economic system that consolidates wealth in the hands of a few.
However, this message as I see it does not go very far.
The last thing one would like to see is for this movement to become no more than a failed footnote in our history. Philosopher Slavoj Zizek argues that the protesters should not state specific policy demands too early. Instead, they should be mindful that any negotiations will be taking place “on the enemy turf”.
I take that to mean that by engaging in dialogue with politicians and the government, the movement might lose its revolutionary momentum as it could be merged into the system.
In contrast, political blogger Matthew Yglesias argues that the only way to prevent the movement from turning into a failure is by raising progressive policy demands. He seems more willing to embrace gradual changes to our financial and social institutions.
Yglesias would likely see the creation of jobs and a fairer taxation system as a satisfactory outcome of these protests.
I do not see how policy-by-policy improvements can fundamentally right the wrongs of our economic and financial institutions.
Admittedly, if the movement were to successfully negotiate a better jobs act and fairer taxation in the United States, many people’s lives could be improved temporarily.
However, structurally the forces that have allowed for capitalistic economic domination in the first place would remain in place. These include loose regulations of the capital market and an inadequate welfare system.
Zizek’s proposition may seem idealistic, even slightly far-fetched. Yet he has a point. Ultimately, the system this Occupy Wall Street movement is attacking is not one where gradual improvements will bring about real change.
Socio-political and economic institutions are so rooted in their bad habits that it would take almost a revolution to change things.
Yet an Arab Spring-like uprising seems highly unlikely in developed nations like the United States.
For the Occupy Wall Street movement to have a genuine impact, its revolutionary momentum has to exceed what previous protests have achieved.
In other words, it has to keep exerting a constant pressure that cannot go unnoticed by policymakers and people in !general.
Perhaps the attempt might still fail to achieve its goals. Yet, at least, it will have demonstrated that the downtrodden can give voice to their grievances.
The struggle has given us a glimpse of hope that we can achieve a sustained long-term difference if we put our collective mind to it.