As a spokeswoman for the Occupy Wall Street movement, Marisa Holmes fights against a financial system that she believes has turned a blind eye to the people on Main Street. She claims that our capitalist economy has become a rigged system, one where those at the top of society continuously rise and where those at the bottom continually fall.
She is not wrong. As TIME magazine editor Rana Foroohar argues, banks are investing less and less into new businesses, debt-fueled speculation is on the rise, a single private-equity firm has cornered the housing market after profiting on the recession that left Americans hopeless, and S&P 500 firms continue to send their net earnings back into their own stock to churn out higher returns for their wealthiest shareholders.
With growing inequality and a gross void encompassing what used to be the middle class, Holmes certainly has a grievance for which to fight. Yet, however right her pronouncements about Wall Street might be, her politics are misguided, seemingly turning her rightful motivation into a pit of despair and cynicism.
In fighting for economic reform, Holmes wrongfully associates a crippled capitalist economy with a failing democracy. Democracy is not failing – the rise of the populist candidate in Donald Trump is succinct proof. Dismissing the efficacy of democracy, Holmes believes that horizontally-structured anarchism is the only way to defy the political and social elite classes in pursuit of a fair economic system (interestingly, democracy is the only form of government that would even allow such an anarchist movement). However, the attention paid to anarchy in the most public recent movement against financial corruption has made the movement devoid of substance and legitimacy. It creates an “us versus them” dynamic.
Holmes’ and other Occupy Wall Street leaders’ cries for anarchical change allowed outliers of the Occupy movement to seek representation through means of violence and institutional hate. As a Rolling Stone article chronicles, Occupy protesters have been “willing to engage in, sometimes violent, acts in the name of revolution.” While this is not representative of the entire Occupy populace, the promotion of anarchism has created space for lawless action. This radicalism that Holmes’ has embraced severely wounded the image of the movement.
But even if violence had not permeated through the movement, the movement still would have suffered due to the difficulty that arises in taking radicalism seriously. Institutional change so consequential to reforming a financial sector that has created a growing fissure among social classes requires action that brings people together rather than one that tears them apart. Holmes’ anarchism is antithetical to real change; in fact, it is retroactive.
Yet her embracement of anarchism is not the only reason for an issue-plagued movement. The movement’s inefficacy is a symptom of her cynical politics. While Holmes claims that she loved the passion that President Barack Obama’s call for change spurred, she is quick to dismiss Obama as just another neoliberal politician that she knew would never actually enact change.
Whether it’s Obama, the middle-minded Hillary Clinton, or the devout progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders, Holmes self-righteously believes that no politician cares. As a result of her sweepingly generalized notion, she does not vote and says that she never plans on voting. This political cynicism only breeds apathy, and as a self-professed community organizer this is unproductive, especially considering the reform that Wall Street direly needs.
At a time when politics are historically divisive, when enticing younger generations into civic engagement grows more difficult, and when we need political and social unity more than ever, Holmes’ cynicism as a social leader is disheartening.
Holmes is not amending society; she is only tearing it apart.