Occupy Wall Street Caves to Capitalism

Kirsten Salyer writes about consumer culture for Bloomberg View and is the site's engagement editor. She has also written for Condé Nast Traveler, Texas Monthly and Houston Community Newspapers. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism and international studies from Northwestern University.
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Two years ago, Occupy Wall Street protesters in New York's Zuccotti Park grabbed headlines with boisterous attacks on the banking industry served with a generous helping of anti-capitalist sentiment.

Now Occupy is getting its own debit card.

Occupy Money Cooperative, a group that includes a Cornell University law professor, a former director of Deutsche Bank and a former British diplomat, is planning to offer a prepaid debit card for people without bank accounts. The group, which began raising money for operating costs on Sept. 17, won't charge upfront costs, but will impose some fees.

The group suggests the card symbolizes a "protest with every purchase." It's also a move to elevate the Occupy Wall Street brand, which has fizzled along with the protests.

But Occupy protesters have been protective of the "Occupy" brand, having previously refused to associate with political organizations or celebrities that tried to use the name. The debit-card plan has already ruffled feathers within the fractious movement.

Tidal, a magazine that covers Occupy Wall Street, ran an article this summer facetiously titled "Help Support Better Stronger Neo-Liberalism with the Occupy Money Cooperative." The cooperative was attacked for emulating "the same system you seek to dismantle." Carne Ross, one of the founders of the cooperative, faced skepticism in an August Reddit "Ask Me Anything" -- not least for the cooperative's proposed relationship with Visa.

The motto of the Occupy Money Cooperative is an echo of the alternative-banking working group established by the Occupy General Assembly -- "like a bank but better." High ideals and radical determination to shake the foundations of the banking system have been supplanted by a promise of transparency, accountability and affordability, all wrapped up in a plastic card, arguably the very symbol of global finance and consumerism.

That's not to say the card doesn't offer benefits. Last year, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. reported that about 8.2 percent, or 10 million, American households don't have a bank account, an increase from the year before (which could also pose an obstacle for Obamacare). The card may be a good deal for consumers. Just don't expect a symbol of capitalism to revitalize a movement of anti-capitalism.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.