Backing grows for 'occupy' protests

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Protestor's sign on Wall StreetOne month after the occupation of space in New York's financial district in protest over the economic crisis, there are growing signs of mainstream support for the actions. Protests have been staged in 951 cities worldwide and in the US, corporate bosses are saying they 'understand' why people are out on the streets. There are growing signs of support from the political mainstream too. In the UK so far, few politicians have expressed support.

Yesterday, the chief executive of one of the biggest banks in the US said: "I understand some of the angst and the anger." John Stumpf continued: "This downturn has been too long, unemployment is too high, and people are hurting. We get that." His remarks came after Well Fargo announced a record quarterly profit of $4.1bn.

Jeff Immelt, the chief executive of General Electric, also had his say, telling an industry event in New York: "It is natural to assume that people are angry and I think we have to be empathetic." He expressed the view that "the only way to solve this specific problem is growth."

Martin Luther King
On Sunday, US President Barack Obama said that civil rights leader Martin Luther King would have backed those challenging "the excesses of Wall Street". Senior Republican Eric Cantor said his party recognised the problem of income inequality, while one prominent Republican blogger wrote: "The time is right for a Republican candidate to take up the cause of populism against Wall Street".
In the UK, only Green Party MP Caroline Lucas and Labour's John McDonnell have come out clearly in support of the protestors. Lucas said the protest in London was: "an opportunity to explore a different kind of future to the one the mainstream political parties have constructed."

McDonnell said that the protestors deserved support even though their demands were "inchoate and incoherent" and is planning to table an early day motion supporting the action. But as many backing the protests have observed, these actions are attempting to find new solutions in the absence of any alternative from the mainstream. Where, for example, is 'leader of the opposition' Ed Miliband?

Financial Times
Most of the UK's supposed opposition politicians seem to be, at best, waiting to see if the movement gets popular before they back it. Following, but not leading. But only yesterday a leader in the Financial Times said: "only the foolhardy would dismiss a movement reflecting the anger and frustration of ordinary citizens from all walks of life around the world ... the fundamental call for a fairer distribution of wealth cannot be ignored."


In the New York Times meanwhile, another editorial piece laid into the economic policy of the UK's Coalition government, saying: "Britain has inflicted this harmful quack cure on itself. Austerity was a deliberate ideological choice ... Britain's unhappy experience is further evidence that radical reductions in federal spending will do little but stifle economic recovery."

But for incoherence and nonsense, just consider the response of sections of the right in the UK. As seems to be the pattern, the occupylsx hashtag on Twitter is now being weighed down with childish smears from 'trolls' obsessed with "Tarquins" buying coffee in Starbucks.

Taxpayers' Alliance
On Sunday, live on Sky News, Jonathan Isaby of the Taxpayers' Alliance delivered a modern-day 'let them eat cake' moment when he said the protestors would do more good if they got jobs and "got the wheels of the economy turning". He was torn to shreds by Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee.
"How dare you say that when there are a million young people unemployed," she said. "You call yourself the Taxpayers' Alliance. If you stood for taxpayers, you'd be out there with them campaigning about the amount of taxpayers' money that has been spent propping up banks that give nothing back."

Polls in the US and Britain are revealing solid levels of support for the protests. As my colleague Adrian Holliday observed when we reported the beginning of the London action on Saturday, the protestors were not yet the mainstream, but neither could they be classed the usual suspects.

Playing poker
There were left activists and counter-culturalists present, and others who seemed to be seasoned campaigners. But there were also people on their first protest, of all ages and from many backgrounds – people like the fiftysomething husband and wife, one an advertising agency worker and the other a payroll clerk – that I spoke to who were angry that "someone is playing poker with my chips".
These latest protests, inspired in their turn by the Spanish square occupations earlier this year, have been going and growing for a month and show little sign of going away. Their very presence sparks debate and encourages the questioning of a society that is not delivering to many of its people. That's why the slogan "the occupation is its own demand' was coined early in the Wall Street action.

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