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The Color of Money

Consumer protest movement takes to the streets to call Wall Street on the carpet

October 9, 2011

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When I first watched the Occupy Wall Street rallies around the country, I wondered if folks carrying signs, camping out, holding up traffic, and boycotting financial institutions could really make a difference.

The jaded part of me didn’t think the protesters could accomplish much. There wasn’t a clear leader. Their demands weren’t specific enough.

Yet the Occupy Wall Street campaign isn’t abating, and for good reason.

“The protests represent people’s frustration in dealing with big government, politics, and big corporations that aren’t providing jobs, aren’t listening to us, and who are nickel-and-diming us,’’ said Ed Mierzwinski, of the US Public Interest Research Group.

Even Federal Reserve chairman Ben S. Bernanke has expressed sympathy with those on the streets.

“They blame, with some justification, the problems in the financial sector for getting us into this mess and they’re dissatisfied with the policy response here in Washington and at some level I can’t blame them,’’ Bernanke told Congress’s Joint Economic Committee Tuesday.

The protests do have a purpose, says Kalle Lasn, editor in chief of Adbusters magazine. It was the Vancouver based anticonsumerist magazine that spurred the campaign. It urged people to show up on Wall Street starting Sept. 17 and set up tents, kitchens, and peaceful barricades and stay for a few months.

“This movement at the moment is all about being angry and having rage,’’ Lasn said. “But in the next few weeks . . . it will become clear it’s a positive program about political and social change.’’

Lasn said he hopes the next big protest will happen Oct. 29. The magazine is urging people to stage protests in the US and abroad before the next G-20 summit, in France Nov. 3-4. Lasn said that one demand protesters can unite behind is a global financial transaction levy dubbed the Robin Hood tax, which is intended to make the financial sector contribute to fixing the economic crisis.

Throughout history, great change has evolved from small civil protests.

It took a Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat on a public bus to a white man, to inspire the Montgomery bus boycott that eventually resulted in the US Supreme Court ruling that segregation was unconstitutional.

Jean Ann Fox, director of financial services for the Consumer Federation of America, says, “Policy makers are at risk of underestimating how fed up and angry consumers are with practices they think are unfair.’’

Even if the protests wane, it’s still the beginning of something great, Lasn said.

I’m no longer jaded.

I’m excited that those most hurt by the dismal economy - the young, old, employed, and unemployed - are marching, picketing, and raising a ruckus against the financial sector that has morphed into too-big-to-fail institutions that gave little thought to how their actions could wreak havoc in people’s lives.

SOURCE: Bloomberg News