What do the Occupiers want?
Occupy Wall Street demonstrators at Zuccotti Park in downtown New York City.
November 11th, 2011
10:19 AM ET

What do the Occupiers want?

Editor's Note: Terra Lawson-Remer (J.D., Ph.D.) is a Fellow at The Council on Foreign Relations and Assistant Professor at The New School University. She was formerly Senior Advisor for International Affairs at the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

By Terra Lawson-Remer - Special to CNN

The Occupy Wall Street protesters have been widely criticized for “not having demands”, as if the lack of a clearly articulated policy platform undermines the legitimacy of those crying foul at a system that seems rigged - politically and economically - in favor of the well-connect and wealthy few. But creating rules and incentives to effectively safeguard fairness, equity and opportunity in the global economy is complicated. Fixing what’s broken cannot be achieved with a single simple demand, or even a five-point plan. Yet despite the difficulty of identifying a single unified policy platform, some solutions are clear.

There is widespread sentiment among many of the Occupiers that reducing the extraordinary influence of money in politics is imperative. This strong commitment to direct democracy is exemplified in the way Occupation working groups operate by consensus, in a transparent, non-hierarchical structure, with a sort of ‘Robert’s Rules of the Occupation’ designed to ensure that all voices get heard.

Dismay with the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United is widespread, which suggests the possible salience of a populist movement for a constitutional amendment to prohibit corporate campaign donations, strengthen public financing of elections and curb the impact of special interests on campaigns. This could be accompanied by parallel pressure to reduce the disproportionate influence exercised by wealthy and connected elites and corporations through lobbying. Deep and significant reform to reduce the sway money exerts through campaign contributions and lobbying would help restore faith in the basic functioning of American democracy.

Likewise, financial industry insiders who recklessly sell low-grade assets to unsuspecting investors, on the basis of misleading information, turning a blind-eye when they should have known better, should face civil and criminal liability. In April, the bipartisan Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released the findings of a two-year investigation into the causes of the financial crisis. Among other revelations, according to sub-committee Chairman Carl Levin, the report concluded that “WaMu selected and securitized loans that it had identified as likely to go delinquent, without disclosing its analysis to investors who bought the securities, and also securitized loans tainted by fraudulent information, without notifying purchasers of the fraud that was discovered”.

In the so-called Abacus Transaction, “Goldman Sachs structured, underwrote, and sold a synthetic CDO called Abacus 2007-AC1, did not disclose to the Moody’s analyst overseeing the rating of the CDO that a hedge fund client taking a short position in the CDO had helped to select the referenced assets, and also did not disclose that fact to other investors.” In other words, Goldman Sachs marketed deals to its clients as good investment opportunities while simultaneously betting that these very same deals would fail. Although under existing law it might be difficult to pin legal culpability for these deals gone awry on those responsible, legal reforms are needed to make it easier to hold bankers directly accountable for reckless behavior.

And there are other measures - none particularly radical - that can and should be taken to reduce risks and volatility and increase transparency and accountability in financial markets. Strengthening regulation, supervision and transparency in the banking sector, including through higher bank capital and margin requirements, would significantly improve risk management and governance. This is already in the works with Basel III.

A multilateral Financial Transaction Tax (FTT) - which would impose a low-rate (e.g., 0.5-1 basis point) tax on currency exchanges and trades of global stocks, bonds, and derivatives - could raise 0.45% of world GDP, according to an IMF research paper issued this spring. That amounts to over $250 billion to fight poverty and foster equity and opportunity worldwide. France and Germany, along with Joe Stiglitz and Bill Gates, are pushing the G20 to embrace a global FTT. Despite financial industry complaints, a FTT applied broadly to all securities and derivatives transactions, on a multilateral basis, would not distort financial markets as it would be very difficult for banks and traders to dodge. And at a low-rate would have little impact on the availability of capital for growth-creating, long-term investments.

Many of the Occupiers agree that corporations, and the top 1 or 2 or 10%, should be paying a higher share of taxes, since those groups have reaped a hugely disproportionate share of the benefits of economic growth over the past three decades. A group of Occupiers is currently marching from NYC to DC, demanding that the Supercommittee role-back the Bush tax cuts.

Increasing taxes on capital gains and closing corporate tax loopholes would allow renewed investments in critical public goods like roads and railways and schools, and strengthen the social safety net for those displaced by rapid shifts in the global economy. The President’s Jobs Bill already calls for $100 billion in investments in infrastructure, including $10 billion for a National Infrastructure Bank, $30 billion to modernize and green public schools and community colleges, and $50 billion to upgrade transport networks. If these infrastructure investments are made in green industries, they could generate employment in the short-term and spur the innovation needed to create jobs, growth and opportunities in the long-term. All while retooling our economy for a more sustainable future.

Unsurprisingly, there is also a hunger among the Occupiers for more innovative ideas. For example, a serious student loan bail-out program would, like TARP, allow young people now drowning in student debt to clear their own balance sheets and invest instead in innovation and entrepreneurship.

When students graduate with tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars of loans, it’s impossible for them to take the kinds of creative risks that are the engine of growth in an economy, like the U.S., where new businesses account for the majority of new jobs. A student loan bail-out program, which could wipe clean the slates of young people who are pursuing innovative entrepreneurship to build their own futures, would restore basic principles of equity while sparking small business creation and innovation.

The Occupy protests have succeeded in galvanizing a conversation in the United States - unseen since the 1970’s - about inequality, opportunity, the influence of money in politics, and the outsized power of corporations and financial institutions. Whether the renewed national dialogue ignited by the occupations will result in substantive changes that have a meaningful impact on peoples’ lives remains uncertain, but one great advantage of an occupation is that it is an extremely teachable moment. If the long winter does not break the occupiers, and if they use their time under siege of weather wisely, come springtime they could emerge as a battle-hardened cadre of skilled organizers well-positioned to influence the issues at stake in the 2012 elections.

Topics: Protests

soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. Howard

    America needs to reinstate the Draft, and induct all the spoiled, ungrateful, disrespectful, 18 to 24 year old dregs of society, so that they can be properly taught about respect, maturity and civility.

    November 11, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      America needs the young and the educated to keep the country going. A student loan bail-out program would relieve them of stress and financial burden, so that they can concentrate on something more productive. In some European countries, students could take their time to pay the loans back. It's not true that the occupiers don't know what they want. They want social justice and equal chances to get by.

      November 11, 2011 at 5:37 pm | Reply
    • David

      You don't honestly wonder why the generation that was conditioned to go to college or else they would have to flip burgers at McDonalds for a living, is being belligerent at the prospect of not finding jobs in their field and being told they should go work at McDonalds?

      November 15, 2011 at 6:56 am | Reply
    • Jon

      Howard, what does that generation have to be grateful for? An economy that your generation (I assume you are a baby boomer) wrecked?

      November 15, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Reply
  2. Onesmallvoice

    What America needs is to get out of all these useless and unnecessary wars, make deep cuts in the both unnecessary and vastly excessive military spending and make the wealthy pay their share of the taxes. Without these being done, the OWS Movement can expect very little out of Washington while America's living standards plummet even further!

    November 11, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Reply
    • Maybe

      While I agree that we should bring our troops home, our military is still less than 5% of the country's GDP. Also, the wealthy are paying their fair share. The top 50% of wealth earners in this country pay 97% of Income Tax, and the the top 10% pay nearly 70%. We already have an extremely progressive tax system. http://mercatus.org/publication/breakdown-federal-personal-income-taxes We need to cut the size and scope of government, lower federal spending, and create an economic environment where people who own businesses aren't scared to hire people for fear of having their taxes raised even more. My 2 cents.

      November 15, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Reply
  3. g.c.kells

    According to the Federal Elections Commission statement released Sept.26 2011, available on Center for Responsive Politics website. the 10 largest contributors to political parties and campaigns at the federal level between 1989 and 2011 are as follows:

    1.Act Blue – $55,745,059 with 99% going to Democrats


    2.AT&T $44,571,779 split 45% to Dem 55% to Rep


    3.American Fedn of State County & Muni workers- $46,167,658 at 94% to Dems 1% Rep


    4.National Assoc. of Realtors $40,718,176 with 47% Dem 49% Rep


    5.Service Employees International Union $37,634,367 with 75% to Dems and 2% to Rep


    6. National Education Assn $37,634,367 with 82% to Dems 5% to Rep


    7.Goldman Sachs $35,790,579 at 60% for the Dems and 39% for the Reps


    8.Amaerican Assn for Justice $34,715,804 with 89% for Dems and 8% Rep


    9.International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers-$34,292,471 at 97% Dem 2% Rep


    10. Laborers Union $31,876,950 with 89% for Dems 7% for Reps.

    In the 2012 election cycle so far the Democratic Party and the DNC combined have raised $101,482,894, and have a debt of $3,455,990. The Republican Party and the RNC have raised 40,332,840 and have a debt of $398,395.

    The complete list shows the top 100 contributors and who they donated to. It shows very clearly that Democrats received the overwhelming majority of contributions from every area; corporate, union, and PAC. It also showed that unions contributed equally or more than corporations in every election cycle. If Occupy Wall Street is to be taken seriously they need to first distance themselves from their union backers, who are one of the largest culprits in the sale and purchase of political influence. Then they need to distance themselves from the Democrats. If they remain tied to the unions and backed by wealthy progressive Democrats, they are destined to be the Tea Party’s ugly little sister and nothing more.

    November 11, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Reply
  4. AJR

    I would like to see more articles on this website regarding the destruction caused by the protesters. There are a lot of businesses in Zuccotti Park that are currently on the brink of failing because the protesters are hurting business. They want to bring down big business, but they don't care about the small businesses that they destroy along the way? Seems counterproductive.

    November 11, 2011 at 7:56 pm | Reply
    • Howard


      The following 'occupy' supporting
      celebrities, paid by you and me,
      are in America's top one percent.
      Let's let each one of them keep
      but occupiers should camp out on
      their lawns, or places of business,
      until they give the rest of their money to the poor !!!

      #1 Yoko Ono Net Worth – $500 million.

      #2 Russell Simmons Net Worth – $325 million

      #3 Roseanne Barr Net Worth – $80 million

      #4 Deepak Chopra Net Worth – $80 million

      #5 Kanye West Net Worth – $70 million

      #6 Alec Baldwin Net Worth – $65 million

      #7 Susan Sarandon Net Worth – $50 million

      #8 Michael Moore Net Worth – $50 million

      #9 Tim Robbins Net Worth – $50 million

      #10 Nancy Pelosi Net Worth – $35.5 million

      #11 Oprah Winfrey Net Worth – $2.7 Billion

      #12 Lady Gaga Net Worth – $110 million

      #13 Jay-Z Net Worth – $450 million

      #14 Lil Wayne Net Worth – $85 million

      #15 50 cent Net worth – $250 million

      #16 Rosie ODonnel Net Worth – $100 million

      #17 Julia Louis-Dreyfus Net Worth – $3 billion

      #18 Matt Damon Net Worth – $65 million

      November 14, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Reply
  5. ms

    It seems to me that small businesses on the brink are failing because of the police that put up fences making exes to those bussinesses impossible so who`s to blame youre country needs an enema as mine does
    getting ride of politicans would be an great start
    you should be proud to see that real man and woman stand up against corrupt politicans and bankers etc
    they have mine respect especialy when they are risking havy forces /crimes by policemen who toke an oath to protect them

    November 12, 2011 at 9:39 pm | Reply
  6. pood

    please correct spelling error: "role-back"

    November 13, 2011 at 1:39 am | Reply
  7. pood

    otherwise – nice article..

    November 13, 2011 at 1:40 am | Reply
  8. penny

    hahah a conversation not seen since the 70's? what about the tea party??? conveniently not mentioned by you... how one sided...

    November 15, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Reply
  9. Kelley Breckenridge

    Kanye West is literally putting himself on the line for his baby momma Kim Kardashian. On May 10, his selflessness ended up in an injury when he accidentally slammed his noggin into a road sign while walking into a restaurant with Kim. The violent mistake was the last straw for Kanye, who ended up aggressively berating all of the paparazzi on the scene.*.^"

    http://www.picturesofherpes.coI'll see you in a bit

    May 22, 2013 at 12:51 pm | Reply
  10. Kathrin Bisikirski

    Lady Gaga, is an American singer, songwriter, record producer, activist, businesswoman, fashion designer and actress. Born and raised in New York City, she primarily studied at the Convent of the Sacred Heart and briefly attended New York University's Tisch School of the Arts before withdrawing to focus on her musical career. She soon began performing in the rock music scene of Manhattan's Lower East Side. By the end of 2007, record executive and producer Vincent Herbert signed her to his label Streamline Records, an imprint of Interscope Records. Initially working as a songwriter at Interscope Records, her vocal abilities captured the attention of recording artist Akon, who also signed her to Kon Live Distribution, his own label under Interscope.`,',

    http://healthfitnessbook.comLatest short article on our own web portal

    May 24, 2013 at 3:46 am | Reply

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