Protestors voice their discontent at Occupy Denmark
Political corruption, welfare cuts, economic uncertainty and unemployment Â– these are the issues that have brought hundreds of thousands into city streets across the world over the past five months.
The protests started in Spain this May with the Â‘Real Democracy NOWÂ’ campaign which saw tens of thousands set up camps in city squares and violent confrontations between police and protestors. Similar scenes unfurled this month during the ongoing Â‘Occupy Wall StreetÂ’ demonstrations in New York, as protestors gathered to condemn the banking sector for its role in the economic crisis.
Â‘OccupyÂ’ has since gone global, with dozens of cities worldwide staging their own protests on October 15 Â– the five-month anniversary of the first Spanish protests. In Copenhagen, 2,000 people gathered for the Â‘Occupy DenmarkÂ’ rally on the town hall square RÃ¥dhuspladsen.
Speaking through a megaphone on the steps to the building, people took turns to explain why they had come. The reasons ranged from showing solidarity with the movements in Spain and America, to dissatisfaction with the political left-wing, to defending against attacks on the welfare state.
One of the speakers was 22-year-old Casper MÃ¸ller, dressed in a black Christiania sweater and reading a prepared speech from an iPad.
Â“IÂ’m here because of the fractional banking reserve system. ItÂ’s a Ponzi scheme that creates money out of nothing,Â” he told The Copenhagen Post after heÂ’d handed over the floor.
Â“I want a moneyless society. ThatÂ’s my dream, to get rid of money because we could do it differently. People say you canÂ’t live without money but we already do in our communal situations with our families and friends.Â”
MÃ¸ller explained that he was inspired by what he saw unfold in Spain this May. He and some friends set up a group Â‘Real Democracy NOW DenmarkÂ’ soon after the Spanish protests gathered momentum. They have been holding regular meetings since, but SaturdayÂ’s rally was the largest turnout so far in support of the cause.
But to say it is a singular cause would be misleading. Placards endorsed a range of messages: Â‘Stop the growth of inequality! Put ethical ceilings on wealthÂ’, Â‘We are the 99%Â’, Â‘I live under the poverty line and pay more tax than Coca ColaÂ’, a poster depicted a banker with the message Â‘0% interest in peopleÂ’, a man held a hand-made sign reading Â‘Support the Egyptian uprisingÂ’.
Listening to the speakers, however, the overarching theme was a dissatisfaction with the capitalist economic model, in which one percent of the worldÂ’s population controls 40 percent of the wealth (the basis for the movementÂ’s oft-repeated rallying cry Â“We are the 99 percentÂ”).
Â“In the monetary system, the only way to get forward is by being selfish, because you canÂ’t make money without stealing it from someone else,Â” 23-year-old Remi Bachmann told The Copenhagen Post. Â“WeÂ’re trying to advertise a system of working together instead of trying to further yourself.Â”
Bachmann, together with his two friends, 22-year-old Sandro Bedin and 23-year-old Nicolai Locke, attended the demonstration as members of the Zeitgeist movement, a Â‘Global Sustainability Advocacy GroupÂ’ that is critical of growth-driven and monetary economics.
Â“We want to wake people up and see that we all share one world and that we should focus on our planetary resources,Â” Locke said. Â“We need people to understand that people and the world are the important things in the society Â– not money and capitalism. We need to support each other.Â”
Bedin argued that while Denmark has suffered less than many European countries as a result of the banking crisis, the country is still vulnerable due to its lack of physical resources.
Â“We need to change our train of thought. Of course weÂ’re wealthy and prosperous, but in the big picture Denmark doesnÂ’t have any resources apart from pigs, and thatÂ’s a real problem,Â” Bedin said.
While Denmark has weathered the financial crisis well compared to its EU neighbours Â– particularly Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland Â– the country has witnessed a series of high-profile banking failures including Roskilde Bank, Amagerbank and most recently Max Bank.
According to one of the speakers at the rally, Hans Schultz from the Schiller Institute, this exposes how the current global financial system makes Denmark vulnerable.
Â“The whole world banking system is interconnected Â– they are all woven together like a carpet,Â” Schultz explained. Â“IÂ’m here because the financial system is bankrupt because the system is created in a way that functions so that special interests control the system.Â”
Schultz and the Schiller Institute are calling for Denmark to introduce banking regulation similar to the American Glass-Steagall Act that would separate ordinary commercial arms of banks from their riskier investment arms. The investment arms would then not be protected by national governments, and would be allowed to fail.
Â“Banks proclaim free market principles, but then want to be bailed out,Â” Schultz said. Â“ItÂ’s strange because they usually argue that if youÂ’re not fit to survive as a company then you should close down. But investment banks have bankrupted themselves through the speculation system as a result of the deregulation of the banking system.Â”
The original Glass-Steagall Act was introduced in the US in 1933 under President Roosevelt during The Great Depression to tackle deflation and prevent the collapse of banks due to investment failures. The repeal of the act in 1999 is widely considered to be one of the root causes of the global economic crisis.
But while the collapse of Danish banks has been blamed mostly on defaults of loans to small and medium sized businesses rather than failure of risky investments, Schultz believes banks require greater regulation. He finds it essentially unjust that they hoard assets while governments enact austerity measures that cut public investment to reduce national debt.
Â“You canÂ’t get out of a crisis by saving money, you have to invest,Â” he said. Â“The crazy thing is that thereÂ’s a huge amount of money in the banks worldwide, but there is somehow no money available for creating jobs, getting business going and developing infrastructure.Â”
After the demonstration, a small group set up camp on the square. On Monday, via their Facebook page they posted a list of provisions they need, such as sleeping bags, work tools and food and drink. They intend to stay for several months, but with winter setting in, they will be roughing it in tougher conditions than those in Spain this summer.
While the rally is undoubtedly political, there was a noticeable absence of flags and banners from political parties and organisations, especially those connected to the left-wing. In that sense it is a peopleÂ’s movement, attended by those who, despite living in a country largely insulated from the worst of the economic crisis, still believe that our current economical model requires a serious rethink.