Occupy: Is Economic Redistribution Sufficient for Social Justice?
The Occupy movement, as noted by Chomsky( 2012), is the first significant and collective challenge to what he hailed as "thirty-years of class war." The imagery, of the 99 percent and 1 percent illustrates thirty years of the erosion of labor laws, neo-liberal globalization, wage stagnation and the deregulation of the American banking system, which has in consequence, cultivated great economic disparity. While Canada has not broken down legislation, which according to Hedges (2009), turns banks into casinos, this "class war" has been executed ideologically. Nonetheless, where does social work stand among this movement? Are the espoused tenets on of the Occupy movement align with the aspired ideals of social work?
Occupy on its most rudimentary level is a radical-left winged movement that seeks to ameliorate economic disparity. Nevertheless, I agree with many writers, and particularly with Hedges (2011), that the Occupy movement is at its most fundamental stratum is bipartisan. While capitalism is an economic theory, according to Stanford (2008) the type of capitalism that has become current practice in North-America is Ango-Saxon capitalism. Anglo-Saxon capitalism statistically reflects, inequality, potent concentration of wealth and manufactured individualism.This type of capitalism is also referred to as radical or corporate capitalism by Chris Hedges. While those approaching the Occupy movement from the political left seek to ameliorate economic disparity, the true Conservatives, as stated by Hedges, seek the "restoration of economic law"; the re-regulation of the American banking system.
The meta aspirations of the Occupy movement have been blurred by the mainstream media, which inaccurately contextualizes Occupy is a disbanded group of punk-radicals with no clear intent. Nonetheless, on its most fundamental level, I believe the Occupy movement is been quite explicit in its intent and aspirations. Chomsky (2012) concurs and asserts that the mere conception of the 99 percent versus the 1 percent symbolizes a myriad of ideals (wage stagnation, polarizing of resources and corporate influence on government). It is worth noting that other movements and aspirations that derive out of the Occupy movement (environmentalism) are tied to the purported goals of Occupy (Chomsky, 2012). Now that we have an understanding of "what" the movement aspires to achieve, where does social work fit in? And how does the movement tie into the ideals of social work?
Reisch and Andrews (2002) assert that social workers are to be champions of social justice. Further examining this conception, social works more fundamental objective is to cultivate equitable access to resources, employment and to help create opportunities individuals require to satisfy basic needs (Reich & Andrews, 2002). In social work vernacular, the rationale and objectives of the Occupy movement reflect “material redistribution” (Mullaly, 2008). Myopically, social justice is theorized to be achieved, or oppression is to me ameliorated through a more equitable economic system; eg.nordic capitalism. Oppression from this perspective reflects a somewhat simplistic model of oppression, “The Single-Strand Model”, which purports that oppression and social injustice derives from a single origin, in this case, a Marxist based argument of classism and exploitation (Mulally, 2008). From an anti-oppressive social work perspective, I assert that we need to be examining the motives of the Occupy movement through an “Intersectional Model of Oppression”. This model suggests that oppression is sustained and perpetuated from a myriad of societal sources, and cultivates an array of types of oppression that are steeped in class, race, gender, sexuality and age that create disparity. Comparing this to the single strand model, the “cause” of ones oppression is not merely based in economic inequality, but additionally by held societal believes. In terms of redistribution and advocacy work, what exactly does this mean? In my opinion, the motives and rationale of the Occupy movement are single-strand based. Hence, a successful Occupy movement would redistribute material and resources, but nonetheless, neglect the societal variables that justify disparity and remove rights. The focus on achieving social justice through material redistribution has been referred to as the “distributional notion of social justice.” Young (1990) accentuates the limitations of this narrow conception of social justice. For instance, the social structures, processes and practices that cultivated “maldistribution” are ignored. Additionally, rights, freedom and opportunity cannot be merely “redistributed.” For instance, the structural barriers to gay-marriage will still be present in a society with a perfect GINI coefficient.
Unequivocally I am a proponent of the Occupy Movement. I agree with Chomsky’s assertions that this is the first significant collective challenge to the “class war” that has been raged by the dominant-minority on the oppressed-majority. However, as a human advocate, social constructivist and on many levels, an existentialist, I view human suffering and oppression through a moving kaleidoscope of perspectives that includes multiple sources of oppression. The rationale for this piece was not to critique and undermine the movement, but to add “food for thought”, and to cultivate a critical discourse on a very exciting and important movement.
Chomsky, N. (2012). Occupied Media Pamphlet Series. Zuccotti Press.
Hedges, C. (2008). Empire of Illusion: The Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle. Vintage Canada.
Mullaly, B. (2008). Challenging Oppression and Confronting Privilege. Oxford.
Reisch & Andrews (2002). The Road Not Taken. Routledge.
Stanford, J. (2008). Economics for Everyone. Fernwood Publishing