Occupy Wall Street

vampire squid

Occupy Wall Street (OWS) is an ongoing series of demonstrations in New York City based in Zuccotti Park in the Wall Street financial district. Initiated by the Canadian activist group Adbusters, the protests were inspired by the Arab Spring movement, especially Cairo’s Tahrir Square protests, and the Spanish Indignants. The participants’ slogan ‘We are the 99%’ refers to the difference in wealth between the top 1% and the other citizens of the United States.

They are mainly protesting social and economic inequality, corporate greed, and the power and influence of corporations, particularly from the financial service sector, and of lobbyists, over government. The protest began in September, and by October similar demonstrations were either ongoing or had been held in 70 major cities in the US. Internationally, other ‘Occupy’ protests have modeled themselves after Occupy Wall Street, in over 900 cities worldwide.

In mid-2011 Adbusters, best known for its advertisement-free anti-consumerist magazine of the same name, proposed a peaceful occupation of Wall Street to protest corporate influence on democracy, address a growing disparity in wealth, and the absence of legal repercussions behind the recent global financial crisis. They promoted the protest with a poster featuring a dancer atop Wall Street’s iconic Charging Bull sculpture. They stated that, ‘Beginning from one simple demand – a presidential commission to separate money from politics – we start setting the agenda for a new America.’ Activists from Anonymous (a collection of unnamed internet denizens) also encouraged its followers to take part in the protest which increased the attention it received calling protesters to ‘flood lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street.’

Adbusters’ Kalle Lasn, when asked why it took three years after Lehman Brothers’ implosion for people to storm the streets said: ‘When the financial meltdown happened, there was a feeling that, ‘Wow, things are going to change. Obama is going to pass all kinds of laws, and we are going to have a different kind of banking system, and we are going to take these financial fraudsters and bring them to justice.’ There was a feeling like, ‘Hey, we just elected a guy who may actually do this.’ In a way, there wasn’t this desperate edge. Among the young people there was a very positive feeling. And then slowly this feeling that he’s a bit of a gutless wonder slowly crept in, and now we’re despondent again.’

A significant part of the protest is the use of the slogan, ‘We are the 99%,’ which was partly intended as a protest of recent trends regarding increases in the share of annual total income going to the top 1% of income earners in the United States.

Although it was originally proposed by Adbusters magazine, the demonstration is leaderless. Other groups began to join the protest, including the NYC General Assembly and US Day of Rage. The protests have brought together people of many political positions. The protesters are fortunate that they gathered at Zuccotti Park since it is private property and police could not legally force them to move off of it; in contrast, police have authority to remove protesters without permits from city parks.

The protesters include persons of a variety of political orientations, including liberals, political independents, anarchists, socialists, libertarians, and environmentalists. At the protest’s start, the majority of the demonstrators were young; however, as the protest grew the age of the protesters became more diverse, mostly related to the use of social networks. Religious beliefs are diverse as well. Some news organizations have compared the protest to a left-leaning version of the Tea Party protests. Some left-leaning academics and activists expressed concern that it may become co-opted by the Democratic party.

While the organization calls itself leaderless, the protest in Zuccotti Park has discernable ‘organizers,’ as well as ‘stations’ that coordinate protest activities and functions (e.g., medical, food, legal, media, security), as well as organizational processes for decision making. The New York City General Assembly (NYCGA) is the governing body of New York City’s Occupy Wall Street; it meets every evening at 5PM, where all the committees come and discuss their thoughts and needs. It is open to all who want to attend, and anyone can speak. And while there is no named leader, some of the members do routinely moderate the general assembly meetings. Volunteers update the minutes from every meeting, along with other need-to-know information for organizers. Agreement on issues is reached using the consensus decision-making process.

New York City requires a permit to use ‘amplified sound,’ including electric bullhorns. Since Occupy Wall Street does not have such a permit, the protesters created the ‘Human Microphone’ in which a speaker pauses while the nearby members of the audience repeats the phrase (somewhat) in unison. The effect has been called ‘comic or exhilarating—often all at once.’ Some feel this provided a further unifying effect for the crowd.

A separate section is set aside for an information/media area which contains laptop computers, cameras, gas-powered generators, and several wireless routers. The generators also provide power for cell phones, and Internet access is available throughout Zucotti Park via these wireless routers. The media team, while unofficial, runs websites like Occupytogether.org, video livestream, a ‘steady flow of updates on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr’ as well as Skype sessions with other Occupy-themed protest sites.

Many protesters have taken to using the bathrooms of nearby business establishments; one nearby McDonald’s restaurant ‘has become the movement’s unofficial latrine.’ Supporters in New York have also donated use of their bathrooms for showers and the sanitary needs of protesters. The protesters have also constructed a greywater treatment system to recycle dishwater contaminants. The filtered water is used for the park’s plants and flowers. Somewhere between 100 and 200 people sleep in Zuccotti Park. Because tents are not allowed, the protesters that do decide to spend the night sleep in sleeping bags or under blankets.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.