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OP-ED: The battle for January

  • Published at 01:45 am February 2nd, 2021
Wall Street New York Stock Exchange
A Wall Street sign the New York Stock Exchange, in New York City REUTERS

What the recent Wall Street fiasco might mean for the future

It’s been close to a decade since the “Occupy Wall Street” movement and the “Arab Spring.” It’s been two years since the two fateful movements that happened in this part of the world (Actually, taking into account that it’s 2021 and I’m no longer a “carefree” student, it’s been three). These are movements that were supposed to change history, where our whole generation would be molded by their repercussions.

These are movements that ultimately failed, where the powerful manipulated the masses to the point that more power was amassed in their hands, while the masses were left to rot. And such has been the fate of all revolutions throughout history. If the history of all of humanity that has come before is the history of class struggle, then the powerful hunters have made it clear that they are the ones on top, and with the power they have accumulated, it is a position they can hold on to for a long time.

But like everything else, power has its limits. If power is the great wall that surrounds the castle of a ruthless warlord, then come sunrise, that too shall fall. 

And while I have been burned out from any kind of organized movement since the two movements of 2018, when I woke all tired and sleepy at 4 am a few nights ago, when I got the news regarding the new movement, I suddenly found myself vested with an energy to stay up for entire nights, for entire weeks, if need be. 

I am, of course, talking about the mass skirmish that is taking place in Wall Street right now. Hedge funds such as Melvin Capital and Citadel made a bet that a certain company would go bankrupt and opted for a short position of all their available shares.

For the uninitiated, short positions mean borrowing the shares of a company and selling them at the current market price, hoping (in theory, but hedge funds engage in manipulative tactics such as spreading rumors and mass selling to make the prices go down) the price goes down in the future, buying the stock at a reduced price, and giving the stock back to the lender with interest.

To further simplify, assume that you borrow a banana that is going for 5 dollars in the market. So, you’ll have to return the banana with some interest. You sell it, making a bet that the price would go down, and engage in your own clandestine tactics so it happens. Of course, there are other variables at play here, such as collateral and a margin call, but enough articles have explained this (if not, seeing The Plain Bagel’s “How Short Selling Works” is a good starting point; from there, some googling should take care of the rest of the matter), and my intention is to explain the resulting fallout, more than the machinations.

Not a meme or a passing fad

You see, when all of this started, none of it was taken seriously. Elite journals called this a meme and a passing fad, and Wall Street was assured that they had the financial capital to take care of some pesky teenagers. Things came to a head last Thursday, when Melvin Capital announced that they were going to declare bankruptcy. They even received a financial package from other big names like Citadel, worth $2.14bn, but that money evaporated over the course of a single night, as no matter what they did, the everyday people wouldn’t budge.

Soon, other entities began to show their true faces. Robinhood, the company that enables common people to trade, restricted stocks of companies like Gamestop, AMC, and the likes --  the very stocks that are turning out to be the battleground for this financial revolution. The government is strictly monitoring the situation, and they are racing to put a stop to something like this, citing reasons like “unprecedented levels of trade” and “activities like this are hurting the overall economy,” meaning that President Biden is echoing the early days of the Obama presidency (a subject that I had touched upon in my last column “Time is a Flat Circle”).

Wall Street is even infiltrating Reddit and gaslighting them into trying to sell. But so far, none of it is working. While Wall Street has billions to lose, to the people with a handful of shares, a couple of zeroes here and there won’t mean anything. As someone aptly put in a reddit post: 

“I’ve averaged around 1000 dollars in my checking account all my life. I’ve been broke too. You know what I do when I hit rock bottom? I simply play some music or play some video games. You might be a financial expert, but I’m a survival master. Power to the people. I will not sell.”

Or how about someone whose father lost everything in the 2008 housing crisis, which was caused by the same maneuver the hedge funds tried to pull off here:

“This is all the money I have and I’d rather lose it all then give them what they need to destroy me. Taking money from me won’t hurt me, because I don’t value it all. I’ll burn it all down just to spite them. 

This is for you, Dad.”

Not about the game anymore

Mainstream newspapers hit the nail right on its head when they proclaimed that this wasn’t about the game anymore, that this was political, and much more personal. This is personal, and it always has been. From the Black Lives Matter protests to the storming of the Capitol, everything has been personal.

Sure, these are people who subscribe to different ideologies, but at their core, they are the same. They have been cheated by the same establishment, and they are beginning to see that their gods are false. The BLM protests left people disenchanted and made them wary of the Democratic Party (a lot of them, anyway). The Capitol protest made many realize that there never was any QAnon, that Trump was never going to save them, that Trump was just as bad as the rest of them.

The real face of the two-party system of America is coming to light, and the people are realizing that they have to take matters into their own hands, regardless of the consequences. 

Through this, people on both the left and the right (the real left and right, as both popular liberals and popular conservatives are mostly in the centre), are finding out they have more in common than they initially suspected.

Sure, there are still differences, and those things need to be hashed out. But if this common ground can be held on to, and if this common spirit can result in future movements (because whatever happens, the government will step in to save the capitalists), then I’d say the future is looking brighter than ever.

Long live the revolution

In 2018, I looked to the future with hope. But after a couple of days, that hope was snatched away. In hindsight, I know I was wrong. To quote Mr Robot, revolutions don’t happen overnight. It takes generations to bring about real change to a system. And if that is what it takes, so be it. This battle might be lost, but their power will diminish, while ours will grow. The next one might give similar results, but they won’t be able to keep up this charade for much longer.

Because at the end of the day, what we might lack in power, we make up in numbers. And from the looks of it, with how people from all around the globe are going in because the trade of American’s has been restricted, the day when we gain power as well is not far off. 

Viva la revolución. ¡El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!

Nafis Shahriar is a student of business and a freelance writer.

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