Student loan debt forgiveness was a core principle of OWS and the Biden Administration is seriously considering it.
Right around the time Washington bailed out big banks in 2008, average American job seekers were already just about fed up.
Considering the 2022 success of Amazon employees in unionizing, all these many years later- in spite of the enormous company’s best efforts to prevent it- workers of the world may have had a point way back in 2008.
With the benefit of hindsight, hindsight and more hindsight- plus post-pandemic and post-Russia’s invasion of Ukraine hindsight- we can see clearly some of the key downsides of globalization which were only just becoming clear in 2008.
The contrast between what was meant to happen and what has actually happened is clearer to us now in 2022. In 2008, the long-term impacts of U.S. globalization weren’t yet fully realized.
In 2008, right around the time big banks got their bailout, the American economy, and in particular the working class, were already beginning to feel the strain.
Major policy shifts, like NAFTA and opening trade with China, sometimes take decades to be fully felt by society. And so it proved with these well-meaning U.S. efforts, backed by both parties, at globalization.
By 2008, the downsides were becoming clear, and they weren’t at all good. On one hand, American consumers had access to more cheaply made, mass-produced goods than ever before. On the other, the disaster trade agreements like NAFTA and others wrought on small-town America began to emerge in earnest.
Factory jobs disappeared, dried up. Methamphetamines, opioids and now fentanyl moved in and laid waste to families and communities, lowering the life expectancy for whole demographic groups.
It would have been one thing if these good paying U.S. factory jobs had been lavished on other countries to their benefit. But instead of fulfilling the great promise of globalization, some major U.S. corporations used the opportunity to offshore their manufacturing centers in order to exploit low-wage workers and lax regulatory environments in emerging nations.
Cutting production costs in this way made corporations trillions. One of the unintended consequences of globalization was a major widening of the wealth gap. The distance between the haves and the have nots, between the 1% and everyone else, has always been marked, throughout human history in every society and civilization.
In 2022, the wealth gap between the wealthiest people on earth- the 1% of the 1%- is so wide, it can’t be shown via any kind of graph or representative chart. If the wealth of everyone else on earth not in the 1% of the 1% were represented by this comma, the wealth of the 1% of the 1% would need to be represented by something the size of the moon. Or Jupiter.
If the wealth of the 1% of the 1% were represented by the Empire State Building, a representation of the rest of the world’s wealth would be invisible to the human eye unaided.
For one, you’d need a telescope to see it; for the other, a microscope: The wealth gap is now that big.
In 2011, the organizers of the wider Occupy Wall Street movement didn’t understand how globalization would play out in 2022. A pandemic, dependence on Chinese manufacturing for vital medical supplies, and Russian military aggression have exposed the deep fractures in globalization. Our entire economy is built on a shaky, 10,000 mile supply line fueled by petroleum; and the U.S. is hardly alone in this.
In 2008 and for years afterwards, in the midst of globalization taking a massive bite out of the U.S. manufacturing industry, it became very difficult to find a job.
Working-class heroes who dutifully got a college education instead of punching a clock at their local factory- now closed- couldn’t find work, whatever their advanced qualifications.
The official unemployment numbers didn’t look so terrible in those days; but that was only because millions of people had been removed- on paper- from the workforce. They weren’t considered officially unemployed because they were no longer looking for a job, hence they weren’t technically participating in the workforce.
Technicalities aside, people looking for a job in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 knew the score. Taking someone out of the workforce on paper didn’t do much in the real world.
So when the news came down that Washington was bailing out Big Banks in wake of the financial crisis, Occupy Wall Street went from a handful of disgruntled wage workers to a full-blown scream of primal rage against the machine.
They were the ones stuck with impossible mountains of debt, unable to find a job- and the banks were getting a bailout? The Occupy Wall Street movement swelled and grew. No strictures against protest in the U.S.A. You can say whatever you like about the government, Wall Street, or anything else.
And Occupy Wall Street protesters did say it, en masse. As the weeks turned to months, they unleashed a stream of protest and invective the likes of which this nation had never seen before.
Over the years, American protest movements have been indignant, righteous, even noble. Some have been loud, others restrained; some were over quickly, others endured.
Occupy Wall Street was mad as hell.
They were angry with the fire of a million protest signs, each more inventive and profane than the last.
One of the key tenets of the OWS faith was the forgiveness of student loan debt. With the news this week that the Biden Administration is showing clear signs of doing just that, or something similar, Occupy Wall Streeters must be feeling at least a bit of satisfaction.
The movement didn’t die; rather it took on new life as other movements inspired in the years since, it took root in political action organizations like the Justice Democrats who elected Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, among others.
It may have taken longer than proponents wanted, but happy days might be here at last for members of the old Occupy Wall Street movement.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)