by Olivia Wolpe
If one were to visit Wall Street in New York City two months ago, the block would be filled with businessmen in suits, walking quickly and talking on cellular phones, briefcases at their side. The buildings that rise up on either side house the headquarters to some of the world’s largest financial institutions: JPMorgan Case, CitiGroup Incorporated, and the New York Stock Exchange. Today, Wall Street is filled with thousands of protestors, part of what has been dubbed “Occupy Wall Street. ” They are people who stand against corporate greed and social inequalities.
According to the official website for Occupy Wall Street (occupywallstreet.org), the movement began on September 17th of this year in Liberty Square in the Financial District. As of October 5th, over 15,000 people were gathered in Liberty Park. The main aim of the protests is to end the financial influence that corporations have over American politics. Adbusters, a nonprofit, anti-consumerist magazine published in Canada, recently demanded that, “Barack Obama ordain a Presidential Commission tasked with ending the influence money has over our representatives in Washington.”
There are no leaders for Occupy Wall Street of any of the other Occupy movements that have since formed. Nonetheless, there are organizers for numerous events, including those in charge of sleeping, sanitation, and General Assembly meetings which are held twice a day to share information, updates and announcements to the participants.
They are, what they call themselves, the 99%. This refers to the idea that it is only 1% of the population that controls the finances in the U.S. and that has had detrimental effects on the gross majority of the inhabitants. Signs such as “I am a student with $250,00 in loans,” and “I am a home-owner who just got foreclosed against,” are some of the individualized slogans being seen, followed by “I am the 99%.” An overview on demographics of the participants has yet to be conducted, but it appears that the majority are those in their mid-20s to mid-30s. While many activists are there as individuals or with friends, many prominent unions have thrown their considerable force behind Occupy movements around the globe, adding considerable strength and numbers.
Criticism against the movement has been voiced among mostly right-wing politicians. While some of the criticism has targeted the movement’s lack of focus and official demands, most of it focuses on the motivation of the participants. “Don’t blame Wall Street, don’t blame the big banks, if you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself!” said Republican presidential candidate, Herman Cain.
While some politicians believe this is an outlet for people to victimize and complain about their problems, speaking up out of emotion and experience is not necessarily a bad thing. “I think that they [Wall Street] have lost their moral compass, and I think that’s what you’re hearing from the people who are just coming together in disgust, in fear, in anger,” said Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier of California on October 4th.
As Nation of Change, a progressive journal, pointed out, Occupy Wall Street cannot be considered a protest because they have no official demands. It is strictly an occupation. However, occupywallstreet.org states that they got their inspiration from protests such as those in Tahrir Sqare in Egypt, Spain and Israel. A lot of the information, discussion, tips, and ideas are being shared over Twitter. As of October 15th, the user @OccupyWallStNYC had tweeted over 2,500 times, while topics such as #occupywallstreet and #ows have received countless mentions.
While the occupation is set to remain peaceful, relations with local law enforcement have been strained since the beginning. The New York Police Department (NYPD) have been accused of using excessive force during their attempts to regulate the situation, according to an ABC news report on September 24th. Over 1,000 arrests have been estimated, with 700 of them occurring in New York City on October 1st, as reported by the New York Times.
Since September 17th, Occupy Wall Street rallies are being held in over 70 U.S. cities, 82 countries with 951 cities overall. October 15th has been named the day for all of these occupations to stand at once. Many events are being organized over Facebook, and an official map can be seen on www.15october.net.
While most did not expect the occupation to spread this rapidly, it is unclear where the rebellion is headed. One thing is for sure, Occupy movements around the world are becoming harder and harder to ignore. This is only the start. As occupywallstreet.org says: “We are a new beginning, a global fight on all fronts that will usher in an era of shared prosperity, respect, mutual aid, and dignity.”