A profound sense of economic injustice and frustration with an ineffective political system are fueling the Occupy Wall Street movement that has spread to 1,000 cities worldwide, including San Luis Obispo.
That was a consensus from a panel discussion Tuesday of six Cal Poly professors of a variety of disciplines. They were less clear about whether the movement would result in real structural changes in the nation’s politics and finances.
“My sense is that occupy Wall Street could have a profound effect on politics in America or it could fizzle out into obscurity,” said Stephen Lloyd-Moffett, an instructor in the university’s religious studies program who organized the forum.
Much of the discontent has coalesced around allegations of corporate greed and power and the difference in wealth between the richest 1 percent and the rest of the nation’s citizens.
“These are people who want to point to the fact that there is injustice out there,” said Jnan Blau, a communications studies instructor. “They have a sense that things have gone wrong and are not getting any better.”
The movement started in September with a series of demonstrations in New York City. A month later, it spread to San Luis Obispo with 10 to 15 people camped out in front of the county courthouse, according to the Occupy SLO website.
A simmering sense of disconnectedness, powerlessness and anger had found its spark in the occupy Wall Street movement, the panelists said.
“It is a reproach and a call to action,” Blau said. “Things are not well in our culture and politics.”
“A lot of people went searching for a social movement and found each other,” said Richard Besel, a communications studies instructor. “It started with economics, but is now something more.”
“If you don’t have a channel to go through, you sit until somebody pays attention to you,” Lloyd-Moffett added.
Part of the motivation is that people feel disappointed with politicians of both parties who have failed to correct the problems. “People feel they have lost control over their lives,” said David Zoller, a philosophy lecturer.
Several of the panelists drew parallels between Occupy Wall Street, the small-government tea party movement and the so-called Arab spring movement, a series of popular uprisings that have spread this year through the Middle East.
Michael Latner, a political science instructor, said one difference is that the tea party was eventually co-opted by well-financed conservative groups such as Freedom Works that are working to get Republicans elected. Occupy Wall Street has not been co-opted in the same way, although labor unions and the Democratic Party would like to do so, he said.
Many of the panelists said they would like to see the Occupy Wall Street movement sharpen its message and call for specific reforms. One needed reform is a tightening of financial regulations so that bankers are less likely to make risky leveraged investments, said Steve Hamilton, chairman of the economics department.