When the Chinese foreign ministry and U.S. President Barack Obama feel the need to comment on Occupy Wall Street – sympathetically in both cases – it is fair to say that the protest movement, one month old today, has emerged as a force to be reckoned with.
“We feel that there are issues here that are worth pondering,” The Associated Press quotes Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin as saying about the still loosely defined group demonstrating against corporate greed and economic inequality.
President Obama, speaking at a dedication of a new memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington on Sunday, said, “Dr. King would want us to challenge the excesses of Wall Street without demonizing those who work there.”
Nobel Prize winner in economics and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman expresses his hope that the movement will turn the United States around in a way that President Obama’s 2008 election has so far failed to do.
An unlikely expression of support came from the chief executive of the Tokyo Stock Exchange, who told the Financial Times that banks “just compete and stampede to make money at the expense of consumers,” adding that “to some extent, I can understand the mindset of those demonstrators against Wall Street.”
The mass demonstrations, which started on Sept. 17 when a thousand or more protesters first marched through New York’s financial district, have by now gone global. Protests in London have come near but not on the private property on which the London Stock Exchange is located. London’s Telegraph says volunteers have offered free food – fresh bread, soup and sundry other items – to demonstrators who camped peacefully amid a heavy police presence two months after riots, looting and arson struck London, Manchester and other English cities.
But Occupy Wall Street-affiliated protests turned violent in Rome, where a mob torched cars, hurled rocks and vandalized banks on Saturday.
The means Occupy Wall Street movement intends to use, and even its goals, remain unclear. The “leaderless” group first called for by Vancouver-based anti-consumerist magazine Adbusters has no official spokesman. But in a release put out today on the completion of the movement’s first month, the Adbusters-hosted website occupywallstreet.org cites the “Arab Spring” revolution that spread throughout the Mideast one-year ago as its inspiration.
The group says “in the last month, the message of “We are the 99%” has won the hearts and minds of over half of Americans (according to a recent Time survey) and is gaining ground globally, with 1500 protests in 82 countries this past Saturday (October 15).”
As to goals, the Adbusters site says the group is “fighting back against the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process, and the role of Wall Street in creating an economic collapse that has caused the greatest recession in generations.”
Critics of the group have come primarily from the political right, with GOP presidential frontrunner Herman Cain saying: “Don’t blame Wall Street, don’t blame the big banks, if you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself!” Cain’s rival for the Republican nomination Mitt Romney said the group is stoking “class warfare,” though Republican candidate and former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer spoke quite favorably about the movement. The amorphous nature of the group makes it ripe for criticism, as exemplified by a lengthy anti-Semitic rant by one of the protestors that has gone viral on YouTube.