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Media Spotlight: Occupy by Noam Chomsky

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Incredibly, the Occupy Movement, which led in the UK to a tent city to be erected in front of St Paul’s Cathedral, has now been going for close to two years.

The international protest movement brought a diverse group of people together, all with the main aim of reducing social and economic inequality.

And like other social movements seen across the globe, it spread fast and wide.

The first Occupy protest to receive wide spread coverage was Occupy Wall Street in New York City on 17 September 2011 and it has spread fast and wide. 

In less than a month similar Occupy protests had taken place in over 95 cities across 82 countries.

And over the last two years it has certainly helped keep the issue alive of growing inequality.

Bank of England executive director of financial stability Andy Haldane argued in October 2012 that the movement had been right to criticise the financial sector and had ultimately persuaded bankers and politicians “to behave in a more moral way”.

World famous linguist, philosopher and political activist Noam Chomsky has been a long time supporter of the movement and the book Occupy features a number of speeches and even conference calls that he has made over the last two years.

And aside from the introduction at the beginning, it provides complete transcripts of events, including interruptions, questions and so forth.

The first is based on a speech he made about it at an Occupy rally in Boston on 22 September 2011.

Chomsky describes the ills of globalisation as anticipated by the classical economists like Adam Smith, pointing out that Smith’s famous “invisible hand” appears in his book Wealth of Nations in a discussion on the possibility of English merchants choosing to do business in another country.

Smith concludes that there is usually a home bias that would stop this, with manufacturers choosing to operate in their own own country, and as if by “an invisible hand” England is saved.

This goes on to a more general discussion of how the divide between the richest 1 per cent and the remaining 99 per cent is getting bigger every year.

The Occupy movement he argues could be the first major popular reaction that could avert this.

He then takes questions from the floor, with Chomsky acting like an activist agony aunt, giving sage advice to people who are clearly thrilled and excited by the Occupy movement.

The second part of the book is five months after the Occupy movement’s first launch and is based on a conference call with Chomsky in which organisers state their second phase of the movement is to move from the tents “into the hearts and minds of the masses”.

While Chomsky argues that reaction to the movement has been mixed, it’s big success has been for people to think less selfishly about how they live.

Even though it is only two-years since the Occupy movement first took place, the book feels nostalgic, it doesn’t feel like it describes something that remains current.

The questions and answers Chomsky provide are practical, it’s difficult to refute much of what he says about the way Western society is set up. But does it feel like he’s talking about a movement that’s current? I’d say not.

The 99 per cent is clearly a phrase and concept that’s now well understood in society, but as an active movement that looks set to change anything, it seems like something that has largely run out of steam.

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