Below is the transcript of my following presentation:
I begin with name of Allah the most Beneficent and most Merciful
Slide # 2-
My name is Nadeem Ghafoor Chaudhry. I am assistant professor in the department of Computer Science at COMSATS Institute of Information Technology or CIIT as it is commonly known in Pakistan. But CIIT bears no responsibility regarding the contents of this presentation. The title of this presentation is “Occupy Wallstreet, Challenges & Opportunities”
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This presentation consists of four parts. First of all I will present a brief history of the movement, then I will discuss what are the motivating factors of this movement. After that, what is our response to all of this as Muslims and the remaining portion will address what should be our response.
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This movement started with an ad in the 97th issue of a Canadian magazine called Adbusters. The ad was motivated by the public uprisings in middle eastern countries, particularly that of Egypt where Tahrir square in Cario became the center of the uprising. The people behind this movement wanted to replicate Tahrir square in Manhattan, NY.
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So they put up an ad which basically stated that “On September 17, we want to see 20,000 people flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months.” They hoped that if they can motivate 20,000 people to occupy the area around Wall Street for a few weeks it will compel Obama administration to take notice and address the problems of common people.
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As planned these people gathered on September 17 but no one took any notice. Authorities ignored them, media did not take them seriously, but their numbers grew. Soon the authorities realized that these people are not going away and that their numbers are increasing day by day. This meant that the “ignore and they will go away” strategy of the authorities failed. So on Sunday, October 1st 2011 NY authorities arrested about 700 of them on Broklyn Bridge. Now 700 people arrested in Pakistan is no big deal our governments routinely do that, but it was a big deal in America. People took notice and wanted to know why so many of their fellow countrymen were arrested.
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This arrest strategy of authorities not only failed but instead gave a boost to the movement and it spread to about 100 cities in US.
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On October 17th the movement celebrated its first month anniversary.
Slide # 9-
A survey done by Hector Guzman shows that this movement is run by quite educated people. They are not a bunch of hobos who have nothing better to do. They are well educated, majority of them have some college, a college degree or more education.
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This fact is obvious from the fact that makeshift libraries were set up in most of places where occupy movement has put up tents.
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This is the OWS library in Boston.
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In London they even setup an University called Tent City University with a diploma in Occupied Economics. Here professors from actual universities would visit and give lectures on different topics. For example here we have Professor Massimo Deangelis from University of East London giving a lecture.
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November 17th marked the two month anniversary of the movement which was expected to be celebrated with full fanfare. This was not what Michele Bloomberg, the mayor of NY wanted to see. So on November 15th 2011 in the middle of the night at 1:15 AM he sent in thousands of police and other city officials to evict the people camped in at Zuccotti Park.
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Being a Pakistani I found it very familiar, because this is what a typical Pakistani mayor would do. Sneak up at unarmed people in the middle of a bitterly cold night, throw their belongings in dump trucks.
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Mayer Bloomberg thought that evicting the protestors from Zuccotti Park will finish off the movement because they won’t have a place to stay in the bitterly cold winter season. But he was wrong. On November 17th 30,000 people gathered in NY city in a show of support.
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The movement has now taken hold and shows no sign of dying out. In fact the brutal tactics of the authorities, like this one in Oakland in which 400 people were arrested, have hardened the resolve of the participants.
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Now I will talk about the motivating factors of this movement.
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The primary motivating factor which is stated on the official occupy website states that the movement “aims to expose how the richest 1% of people are writing the rules of an unfair global economy that is foreclosing on our future.”
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Basically their point is that 1% of the population is hoarding resources while the remaining 99% of the population is being deprived and they represent the 99%.
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This charge is fully backed by published data. As you can see in 1983 the top 1% of the population owned 33.8% of the wealth while the bottom 80% owned 18.7%. This lopsided distribution has become even worse. In 2007 the share of wealth of the top 1% increased to 34.6% while that of the bottom 80% dropped to 15%.
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Here is another slide presenting the same idea for both net worth and financial worth.
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This slide presents the same idea in a bit more graphical way. The dots at the bottom represent members of bottom 80% while the giant in the middle represent how the member of the top 1% would scale up against him. The URL at the bottom describes it in great detail.
The people have realized that the root cause of this disparity is the capitalistic system and it is not working for them. And they instinctively know that a better system is possible.
The people are also upset at courts because the courts have legalized the capitalistic system of exploitation. The courts gave corporations same rights as people. This opened flood gates of money for politicians who amended or made laws supportive of the 1% as we will see in the coming slides.
Here is an example of a crazy situation where a perfectly live-able house, which was possessed by the bank after foreclosure is being destroyed by the bank. Look at the upside down world where we have homeless people on the streets of US and homes which are being destroyed rather than being used by the people who need them.
Two slides back I mentioned how laws are made or amended to favor the top 1%. Here is a very interesting slide depicting this trend. The graph shows federal prosecutions for financial frauds. When Bill Clinton was president he passed laws which tilted the laws in favor of financial institutions and people running them. As a result practices which would have been considered illegal became legitimate. These twisted laws meant that what was considered a financial crime previously became totally legal transaction and people involved were not charged for any wrong doing. That is why we see a steady downward trend. This trend continued in 2007, 2008 while the US economy was taking a nose dive and financial institutions were being bailed out with tons of public money. This downward trend has continued even in Obama’s administration because what was considered a crime is now done in broad daylight and not considered a crime.
A very accomplished legal expert by the name of Glenn Greenwald has written a book describing how the ruling elite in America is using law to destroy equality and protect the powerful members of the society.
Professor Thomas Ferguson of University of Massachusetts has developed a theory commonly known as “The Investment Theory of Politics”. The theory states that, since money driven political systems are expensive and burdensome to ordinary voters, policy is created by competing coalitions of investors, not voters.
The previously mentioned theory is supported by research done by Martin Gilens, Associate Professor of Political Science at Princeton University. He studied about a decade worth of data and concluded that “When Americans with different income levels differ in their policy preferences, actual policy outcomes strongly reflect the preferences of the most affluent but bear virtually no relationship to the preferences of poor or middle-income Americans. The vast discrepancy I find in government responsiveness to citizens with different incomes stand in stark contrast to the ideal of political equality that Americans hold dear.” This clearly demonstrates that rules and regulations are made to favor the rich and powerful not the poor and week members of the society. The poor and week members of the society are at the mercy of the rich and powerful.
Now let me give a concrete example of what I have been stating in my previous slides. In this slide we can compare how laws made by rich and powerful made for rich and powerful guys can produce drastically different results. In the top we have the case of a guy named Paul R. Allen of Oakton, VA who was CEO of a mortgage lending institution. Paul committed a 3 Billion dollar fraud, one of the biggest in US history. But the judge punished him by sending him to jail only for 40 months. The interesting part is that the federal prosecutor had asked for only 6 year sentence. Now compare this to the case of Roy Brown who is a homeless and hungry man. Roy approached a teller at Capital One Bank in Shreveport, Louisiana with one hand under his jacket and told her that it was a robbery. The teller handed three stacks of money but he only took one $100 note and returned the remaining money to her. He told her that he was hungry and homeless. Next day he voluntarily surrendered to police and told them that his mother didn’t raise him that way. He pleaded guilty in front of the judge. The judge sentenced him to 15 years in prison for first degree robbery. Now here is a system which is clearly made by the rich for the rich.
The question is how it is done? The answer again lies with money. The rich and powerful buys political control by funding election campaigns. A study done by Sunlight Foundation revealed that one percent of one percent, i.e 0.01% of Americans made quarter of all political contributions. These are the people who have real access to the politicians who in turn make laws. And these laws are obviously going to favor the rich contributors not the average Joe.
Now as Muslims in general and Pakistani in particular what is our response to all of this? What are we doing about it?
And answer, not surprisingly is : Nothing. Particularly in Pakistan the whole media circus is almost silent about it. In fact all the talk shows are full of praise of American democracy. Every anchor person is telling the public that only if we could have a stable American style democracy we will all be living in a paradise. All of problems are due to lack of such stable democracy. We have seen in the above slides what that system is doing to its own people. And mind you that the American population is by far more literate than our people. I have deliberately used the word literate not educated because if they were educated they would not tolerate this crooked system.
But that is their problem. The question is what should be our response to all of this? That is topic of part II of this presentation.