Occupy Wall Street founder hopes to form new political partyBy Rich Robinson | 11/14/2011 1:23pm
From his Vancouver office, Kalle Lasn, who many consider to be the de-facto founder of the Occupy Wall Street movement, recounted the true origin of the group and what he believes it should and will become.
Lasn is the founder and editor of Adbusters magazine, a Canadian-based anti-consumerist publication that has a long history of political activism.
The story of Occupy Wall Street begins in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. Barack Obama was just recently elected president in a historic campaign that saw youth turnout at record levels. On June 4, 2009, Obama traveled to Egypt, to give a speech to the Arab world.
In the speech, titled “A New Beginning,” Obama outlined his policy regarding the Middle East.
Kalle Lasn watched Obama’s address and counts it as the high water mark for the man that he says, “has bitterly disappointed me.
“The political left has been in the doldrums now for decades, but we came out and supported him in 2008,” Lasn said. “But since his famous speech in Cairo, he has turned out to be a gutless wonder, a wimp.”
Lasn points to the administration’s actions in dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and in not closing Guantanamo Bay as a betrayal to what Obama campaigned on.
He also believes that the President should have pressed for some on Wall Street to be prosecuted due to activities that led to the collapse of the financial sector.
On Dec. 17, 2010, a man lit himself on fire in a quiet Tunisian city. Mohamed Bouazizi was a vegetable vendor who had been humiliated when the police confiscated his unlicensed street cart. Bouazizi tried to reason with the regional government, but they refused his pleas. So the fed up and disillusioned father of eight walked out to the street in front of the government office, poured gasoline on himself and set it ablaze.
His violent death lit a fire in the hearts of many in the Arab world. In what has become known as the Arab Spring, a series of violent uprisings occurred in longstanding dictatorships including Egypt, Libya and Syria.
Lasn points to the revolution in Egypt as a major moment in the evolution of Occupy Wall Street.
“We wanted our own Tahrir moment,” Lasn said, referencing the major square in the heart of Cairo that has served as the center of the revolution there. “We want a soft regime change. And the reason we use the term soft regime change is because America is not a dictatorship like how it was in Egypt. But democracy is also not as vibrant in America as it used to be.
“I think it starts off with a little occupation in Zuccotti Park and it’s hard to tell where it’s all going, but my gut feeling is that the global economy is going to get a hell of a lot worse, and we will see where we end up.”
The term Occupy Wall Street actually came about in a regular meeting at the Adbusters office. Energized by the developments in the Arab world, the Adbusters team thought up a twitter hash tag for a potential event in New York City.
The hash tag “#OccupyWallStreet” became incredibly popular on the social media site as it began to pick up some big name support.
“One of the first real boosts came when Anonymous came out with that video. It gave us a huge amount of street cred,” Lasn said, about the hacking group that has become controversial in the past few years due to its alleged criminal activities.
On Sept. 17, Occupy Wall Street organized its first protest in New York City. The rest is history, but as a new year approaches, questions abound about the future of the group.
“My own feeling is that all these young people that are at the base of this [are looking] into the future and see a black hole, and the future does not compute,” Lasn said. “And they are waking up to the fact, that they may not have one.”
Lasn also has a stark economic forecast for America.
“I think that we could be at the beginning of a great contraction like we were in the beginning of the 1930s,” Lasn said. “If we go in a major contraction now, how will we get out of it? We’ve used up most of the fish in the ocean, deforested most of our forests and used up half of our oil. This movement may wake the world up.”
When confronted with the assertion from many in Washington that the group has not really accomplished anything if they don’t vote in 2012, Lasn responds, “I think that what the movement has already done is something miraculous. They have created a new conversation in the United States.”
But Lasn does realize that the group will have to shake its scatterbrain image.
“Down the road this movement will have to get some real concrete goals,” Lasn said. “But the real goal is when next spring we form a new political party. I don’t know, maybe it will be called the True Cost Party of America.”
Currently, the staff of 10 at the Adbusters office is working on these future goals, including the activist dream of a third American political party.
“We want to be 100 times bigger than what Ralph Nader did,” Lasn said.
However the realist in Lasn understands the challenges ahead.
“I think that the movement may begin to die down a little because of the winter. Many of us will go home,” Lasn said. “But next spring, when the flowers start to bloom, we will rise up again and continue the occupation.”