Occupy Wall Street has spread to 900 cities around the world and 90 American college campuses. Americans are shifting towards government responsibility for equal opportunity and away from the capitalistic culture that holds that individuals are responsible for their socioeconomic situation.
Never before have American protests for socioeconomic equality mobilized an international movement. Lawyer Kirk Boyd, former professor at Berkeley Law School, told me that Americans have feared that enforcing this equality would impinge on the civil and political freedoms of Americans. But this fear no longer exists.
Americans are demanding socioeconomic equal opportunity despite an ingrained culture of capitalism. OWS’ fierce protest against Wall Street’s economically destructive influence shows the country’s shift towards socioeconomic equal opportunity over freedom of the market. OWS is demanding everything from the creation of jobs, infrastructure, green initiatives, a better social contract, more unionization, a living wage, progressive tax reform, and a curb on the power of money on politics.
All these demands suggest that OWS is demanding the utopian idea of socioeconomic equal opportunity. The demand for socioeconomic equal opportunity means OWS wants everyone to have the tools to have an equal advantage to access a country’s goods. The movement holds that wealth gives people the tools to acquire these goods, services, and opportunities but prevents the rest of Americans from obtaining them. OWS wants the rest of the 99% of Americans to have the education, health care, etc. They want to give the majority equal access to a decent standard of living – free of want and fear. To achieve equal access, OWS wants to hold the government accountable, demanding that they provide tools that would enable socioeconomic equality.
Here lies the shift in culture away from a dominant capitalist culture. Capitalism argues that inequality is a consequence of an individual’s lack of talent, not in the government's not providing tools to facilitate equality. Capitalism holds that government should not intervene in socioeconomic affairs, but that these affairs should be left to the private sector. OWS, on the other hand, has placed value on the government's role and responsibility in providing equal opportunity. Their effectiveness proves that this is a major movement.
OWS has already overcome the challenges that prevented similar movements in the 1960s from succeeding. First, OWS persuaded the public to overcome past biases against socioeconomic equal opportunity associated with the Cold War. Second, contrary to the 1960s movement that lost support because of supposed links to cultural threats of the time, OWS has a strong backing for a new culture.
So although OWS does not have a unified set of demands, they have rallied around a single cause – for socioeconomic equal opportunity – just as Egyptians rallied around a single cause – “people want the regime to fall” – that created a revolution. So perhaps the U.S. will have its own “American Autumn” like Egypt had its Arab Spring, proving once and for all that socioeconomic intervention is not anti-American and can be enacted without the fear of losing our cherished freedoms.
Photo Credit: Jacinda Chan