Hardly a day passes by without stories about the Occupy Wall Street Movement making headlines on TV, Internet and newspapers. Actually, what is OWS? Here is a write up about the Movement as adapted form Wikipedia.
Occupy Wall Street (OWS) is a protest movement that began September 17, 2011 in Zuccotti Park, located in New York City's Wall Street financial district. OWS was initiated by the Canadian activist group Adbusters and has led toOccupy protests and movements around the world. The OWS protests are against social and economic inequality, greed, corruption and the undue influence of corporations on government—particularly from the financial services sector. Their slogan, We are the 99%, addresses the growing income inequality and wealth distribution in the U.S. between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of the population. To effect change OWS engages in "direct action" instead of petitioning authorities.
Occupy Wall Street has roots in the British student protests of 2010, Greece's and Spain's anti-austerity protests of the "indignados" (indignants), as well as theArab Spring protests. But the more immediate series of events which lead to the protest started with email conversations between Kalle Lasn, founder of the Canadian-based Adbusters Media Foundation and Micah White, Adbuster's senior editor.The two had the idea for an occupation of lower Manhattan in early June 2011. Lasn registered the OccupyWallSteet.org web address on June 9th. Early in June, Adbusters sent its subscribers an email saying that “America needs its own Tahrir,” and according to Micah White the idea "was spontaneously taken up by all the people of the world.” In a blog post on July 13 of 2011, Adbusters proposed a peaceful occupation of Wall Street to protest corporate influence on democracy, the lack of legal consequences for those who brought about the global crisis of monetary insolvency, and an increasing disparity in wealth. The protest was promoted with an image featuring a dancer atop Wall Street's iconicCharging Bull statue.
The series of events which culminated in the formation of the New York General Assembly (NYGA) began in June and July when a group called New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts (NYAB), began promoting a “People’s General Assembly” to “Oppose Cutbacks And Austerity Of Any Kind”. On August 2 NYAB met in Bowling Green Park. Activist, anarchist and anthropologist David Graeber and several of his associates also attended the NYAB meeting, but grew frustrated when they found out that the event was not a "general assembly" which rules by consensus created by group discussions. Rather, the event was intended to be merely a precursor to marching on Wall Street with a corpus of predetermined demands such as "An end to oppression and war!" In response, Graeber and his small group began their own general assembly, which eventually drew all the remaining attendees from the NYAB meeting and eventually developed into the New York General Assembly. The group began to hold weekly meetings to work out the issues and direction of the movement, such as whether or not to have a set of demands, the formation of working groups and whether or not to have leaders. Graeber argues that the Occupy movement is based on the philosophy of anarchism. The internet groupAnonymous encouraged its readers to take part in the protests. Other groups began joining to assist in organization, including the U.S. Day of Rage, and the NYC General Assembly. The protest itself began on September 17; a Facebook page for the demonstrations began two days later on September 19 featuring a YouTube video of earlier events. By mid-October, Facebook listed 125 Occupy-related pages.
Protesters near the New York police department's headquarters (Photo from Wikipedia)
The original location of choice by the protesters was 1 Chase Plaza, the site of the "Charging Bull" sculpture. Police discovered this before the protest began and fenced off the location. NearbyZuccotti Park was then chosen. Since the park was private property police could not legally force protesters to leave without being requested to do so by the property owner. At a press conference held the same day the protests began, New York City mayor Michael Bloombergexplained, "people have a right to protest, and if they want to protest, we'll be happy to make sure they have locations to do it."
Because of its connection to the financial system, lower Manhattan has seen many riots and protests since the 1800s, and OWS has been compared to other historical protests in the United States. Writing for CNN, Sonia Katyal and Eduardo Peñalver said that "A straight line runs from the 1930s sit-down strikes in Flint, Michigan, to the 1960 lunch-counter sit-ins to the occupation of Alcatraz by Native American activists in 1969 to Occupy Wall Street. Occupations employ physical possession to communicate intense dissent, exhibited by a willingness to break the law and to suffer the -- occasionally violent -- consequences." Commentators have put OWS within the political tradition of other movements which made themselves known by occupation of public spaces, such as Coxey's Army in 1894, the Bonus Marchers in 1932, and the May Day protesters in 1971.
More immediate prototypes for OWS include the British student protests of 2010, Greece's and Spain's anti-austerity protests of the "indignados" (indignants), as well as the Arab Spring protests. These antecedents have in common with OWS a reliance on social media and electronic messaging to circumvent the authorities, as well as the feeling that financial institutions, corporations, and the political elite have been malfeasant in their behavior toward youth and the middle class. Occupy Wall Street, in turn, gave rise to the Occupy movement in the United States and around the world.
Some journalists have criticized the protests saying it is difficult to discern a unified aim for the movement, while other commentators, such as Douglas Rushkoff, have said that although the movement is not in complete agreement on its message and goals, it does center on the problem that "investment bankers working on Wall Street [are] getting richer while things for most of the rest of us are getting tougher". According to Rushkoff, "... we are witnessing America's first true Internet-era movement, which -- unlike civil rights protests, labor marches, or even the Obama campaign -- does not take its cue from a charismatic leader, express itself in bumper-sticker-length goals and understand itself as having a particular endpoint".
Some protesters want, in part, more and better jobs, more equal distribution of income, bank reform, and a reduction of the influence of corporations on politics. Adbusters co-founder Kalle Lasn has compared the protests to the Situationists and the Protests of 1968 movements and addresses critics saying that while no one person can speak for the movement, he believes that the goal of the protests is economic justice, specifically, a "transaction tax" on international financial speculation, the reinstatement of the Glass-Stegall Act and the revocation of corporate personhood.
The General Assembly, the governing body of the OWS movement, has adopted a “Declaration of the Occupation of New York City,” which includes a list of grievances against corporations, and to many protesters a general statement is enough. However, saying, "‘Power concedes nothing without a demand' " others within the movement have favored a fairly concrete set of national policy proposals. One group has written an unofficial document, "The 99 Percent Declaration”, that calls for a national general assembly of representatives from all 435 congressional districts to gather on July 4, 2012, to assemble a list of grievances and solutions. OWS protesters preferring a looser set of goals have written another document, the Liberty Square Blueprint; an early version read: "Demands cannot reflect inevitable success. Demands imply condition, and we will never stop. Demands cannot reflect the time scale that we are working with." The demand for demands itself has been criticized by figures like Judith Butler and David Graeber, who argue that issuing demands is counterproductive for the Occupy movement, as this legitimizes the very structures the movement seeks to challenge.
On March 17th, Occupy leaders declared the six-month birthday from the moment their movement started with a bold Twitter message, “In our first 6 months we changed the national conversation. In the next 6 months we will change the world.” The movement was mostly dormant during the winter months but avows renewed enthusiasm, larger demonstrations, and a general strike all leading into the 2012 election season.
"Occupy" protesters' slogan, We are the 99% first appeared on a flyer calling for OWS's second General Assembly in August 2011. The Pew Research Center's Paul Taylor called the slogan "arguably the most successful slogan since 'Hell no, we won't go,'" of Vietnam war era, and that the majority of Democrats, independents and Republicans see the income gap as causing friction. The Economist and Washington Post said CBO report released in October, 2011 confirmed the validity of the meme. The Post also said the slogan was formulated using earlier studies reaching conclusions similar to the CBO's report.