Last week, I took a film crew down to the Occupy Wall Street site in New York City. I'm working on a documentary about the impact of China on the American economy; and I wanted to find out just how many of the protesters could connect the dots between the economic malaise they are protesting about and the unfair trade practices China is using to destroy the American manufacturing base and our jobs.
What I found down at Zuccotti Park was about as mixed a bag as you can possibly imagine. For starters, there were as many tourists, reporters, and homeless people off their medications as there were legitimate protesters. There were also many issues that had been tacked on to the core concern of the Occupy Wall Street movement about the concentration of financial power in America, e.g., fracking.
That said, if you looked closely enough, you could detect a strong core of very intelligent and committed people trying to orchestrate the birth of a new political force in America. And it is that core of people who rightly appear to be scaring the hell out of both the right-wing media and the political establishment.
In many ways, what I saw reminded me of what I had lived through as a high school and college student during the 60s and 70s -- a time that began with protests about the Vietnam War but quickly escalated into all manner of economic, political, and social protests.
I'm not sure how this particular movement is going to end. One scenario is that constructive change does come about. A more likely scenario is that violent outbursts by fringe elements will be used to discredit the movement.
That said, at the end of the day, what bothered me the most about the interviews I conducted was the failure of most of the protesters and indeed most Americans to clearly understand the fundamental economic origins of the discontent most Americans now feel. The most telling symbol of this ignorance for me down in Zuccotti Park was a box that was being emptied of the latest tent to be pitched in the park. That box had a big "Made in China" label on it.
Until we are able to connect the dots between the lack of employment opportunities in America because we no longer have a viable manufacturing base and the use of mercantilist trade practices like illegal export subsidies and currency manipulation by the Chinese to attack the American manufacturing base, we will have more and more people raging against the machine. At least Chinese tents are cheap down at the local Walmart.