Naomi Klein on Occupy Wall Street

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Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Naomi Klein, syndicated columnist for The Nation and The Guardian and author of The Shock Doctrine  and No Logo, one of the most influential books for the anti-corporate globalization movement, talks about why she's in town to support the Occupy Wall Street protesters.

Today is day 20 of the Occupy Wall Street protest, and the movement is growing rapidly as labor unions and disenfranchised people from around the country join in to express their frustration. The demonstration is scheduled to last for two months and is spawning similar movements nationwide. Two members of Congress have signed a statement of support for the movement, and today Naomi Klein speaks at the action that she calls “the shock resistance.”

Klein said the main thesis of her shock doctrine is that many of the policies that are favored by and profitable to the elites, such as privatization of social services, cuts to regulation, are unpopular generally in the country. The great leaps forward for this type of ideology, she said, have come “on the backs of major crises.”

There has long been an understanding among free market economists that in times of crisis you are able to do things that you could not do during normal circumstances, particularly in democratic societies. And when there is a panic, when people are fearful, they tend to trust the experts and they will give up power.

As an example she pointed to the financial crisis of 2008 and the $700 billion TARP program, which was initially opposed but as fear was more and more ramped up, an urgency to pass the legislation intensified.

It was just like, either we pass this thing or the whole world collapses, and they managed to get it through.

She said one of the things that most offended people about the legislation was the lack of provisional requirements attached to the money, rather than the idea of taking strong action. People felt it was unfair that banks were being bailed out while homeowners were left to face foreclosure, but also that the trillions in loans and bail out money came with nothing asked in return.

I made the analogy of, the International Monetary Fund, when they go and bail out Greece, for instance or Italy or anywhere... they always have quite an extensive list of demands. They used to be called “structural adjustments” So why didn’t we structurally adjust the banks?

Klein said the image that moved her to leave her home in Canada and hurry to Wall Street was that of a young woman holding a sign that read, simply, “I care about you.”

The more time that I spend with these young protesters, the more inspired I become that their project is really about trying to change the culture that we live in so that it is less focused on greed. Yes, they want to change the banking system too, but I think they want more than that.

She said while the protesters have drawn criticism for being amorphous in their goals, she sees that as a strength of the protest.

I’m just happy that they are not foreclosing on the big dreams right now, because I think it would be really dispiriting if they came up with a list of wonky demands that you can read in a very good New York Times column.

She said no one--not the protesters here, nor the demonstrators that toppled the Mubarak regime in Egypt – have perfectly formed ideas of what a better world looks like, but that should not stop them from protesting what they understand to be harmful to their country.

She contrasted the statement of caring from the protester on Wall Street with what she called the “Let them die” moment during the Republican presidential primary debates.

This is what we’re taught to do. To live in a society that puts greed above all else. You have to learn not to care about other people, and it’s quite an art. And if you work on Wall Street, you’re really, really good at it. You’re really good at disconnecting what you do all day and the way it affects real people and real lives.

Yesterday the AFL-CIO joined the protest, bringing a large establishment voice to support the younger protesters.  Klein said that it may be the youth of the people who started the movement that is inspiring hope in older and more established factions.

It is a lot harder to blame these young people for the problems that we have, because a nineteen year old who is looking at massive student debt, and graduating into an economy in which she’s not going to get a job, did absolutely nothing to create this crisis. And they can say that very clearly, and it’s a very powerful moral rallying cry.

She said that in Chile, in Spain, in protests nationwide, it is young people leading the way. The movements, she said, are not the same, but the spirit is contagious and all ultimately look to end the high existing economic inequality.

You watch US media and the question is “why are they protesting?” where, everywhere else in the world, the question is, “what took them so long?”|topnews|text|FRONTPAGE