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New Republic - December 25, 2019

Welcome to theDecade From Hell, our look back at an arbitrary 10-year period that began with a great outpouring of hope and ended in a cavalcade of despair.

***"...***A decade on, Occupy has helped mainstream that which they were ridiculed for at the outset: illustrating, in the streets and elsewhere, how economic inequality is poisonous to democracy. Critically, Occupy named the people who currently benefit from this destructive order. They also took steps to hold them to account and bring others into the fight. Despite having little appetite for electoral politics, they gained some congressional allies, including those whose runs for the White House may have been unimaginable without them. In that regard, Occupy has already set the terms for the decade to come: demanding not just accountability from the financial industry but also that, in the face of political corruption and financial villainy, the people divorce their worth from the rule of billionaires."

It may have begun with Lehman Brothers, the investment bank that failed weeks ahead of the presidential election in 2008. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson (formerly of Goldman Sachs) and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke (future hedge-fund adviser) then called Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, according to Rolling Stone, saying “We need $700 billion, and we need it in three days.”

The bank bailout of 2008 was sold as relief for both banks and homeowners, whose mortgages, without their knowledge, propped up an opaque network of bets on their ability to repay them. Many assumed that regulation would follow, to prevent such a crisis in the future. Upon his inauguration, however, President Barack Obama appointed the reliably bank-friendly Tim Geithner as Treasury Secretary. Geithner had helped choose which banks would be propped up with public money, including Citi, which was bailed out three times. In the end, financial institutions like Citi, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Goldman Sachs walked away with, by some accounts, trillions. Two years later, foreclosures hit a record high. The bailout program’s inspector general, Neil Barofsky, resigned in March 2011, declaring the program had left homeowners “in a far worse place than they would have been had this program not existed.”

Six months later, Occupy Wall Street was born—first as a demonstration in a publicly owned private park in lower Manhattan, then inspiring scores of other protests and encampments, spreading nationwide. At an event promoting a jobs bill, Obama was interrupted by Occupiers: “Mr. President. Over 4,000 peaceful protestors. Have been arrested. While Banksters continue—” The crowd shouted them down, but the rest, according to a slip of paper found and photographed, was: “… to destroy the economy with impunity. Your silence. Sends a message. That police brutality. Is acceptable. Banks got bailed out. We got sold out.”

The police brutality they referred to erupted a few days prior, when New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg unleashed what he called his “army” of cops to remove the few hundred people who still remained in Zuccotti Park. The move only added insult to injury, as Bloomberg’s girlfriend sat on the board of the real estate development company that owned the park. “I can tell you that pillow talk in our house is not about Occupy Wall Street or Brookfield Properties,” the mayor claimed in defense. But his loyalties were apparent, for example when Occupy protested outside the home of the head of JP Morgan: “To go and picket him, I don’t know what that achieves,” Bloomberg said. “Jamie Dimon is an honorable person, working very hard, paying his taxes.” It was the Occupy protesters, he said, who were “trying to destroy the jobs of working people in this city”—not those who bet their futures away.

The police crackdowns on occupations in New York and across the United States helped push the movement off the front pages. But activists would take what they learned at Occupy into fights over housing, debt resistance, and labor struggles. Occupy, as journalist Sarah Jaffe wrote in Necessary Trouble, her chronicle of this decade’s social movements and uprisings, gave “outrage a location,” using the occupation to prove police were on the side of bankers—of financial institutions who themselves broke the law. ...
Read full commentary at New Republic