For many days, there have been series of demonstrations organized by Adbusters, a Canadian activist group, in Zuccotti Park, Wall Street financial district, New York. The protestors are against a number of issues including high unemployment rate, greed, corruption, excessive influence that corporations have on the government, social and economic inequality. The protestors use the slogan we are the 99%, which refers to the huge difference in wealth in the United States between the richest 1% and the remaining 99%. Dubbed ‘Occupy Wall Street’, the demonstrations have led into a bigger movement, ‘The Occupy Movement’ of the masses in other parts of the world. I went to the camp before it was destroyed to understand the reasons that prompted to mass protest, as well as, asking the protestors what they hope to achieve in the protests.
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Protestors set up camp in Zuccotti Park on the 17th of September this year in preparation for a massive protest. Since it was private property, the protestors knew they would not be forced out without the owner’s permission. They believed that the current financial system is for the benefit of the rich and large corporations only. They also planned to march from their camp to Wall Street and then to New York’s subway system and tell how Americans are fed up with the leadership. The group has also promised to deliver a block party that will never be forgotten by the one percent. The movement has ignited several other protests against economic inequality across other states, and some have ended in violent clashes with the law enforcers.
The organizers of the protests said they wanted to begin by setting the agenda for a brand new America; which proposed that money should be separated from politics. They had thought that Obama’s presidency would usher in an era full of reforms. They expected the president to pass laws that would regulate the banking system and take fraudsters to court. However, nothing much has been done and there seems to be no hope for change.
According to a Congressional Budget Office report, the top 1% of income earners had doubled their income in a span of thirty years. In 2007, the richest 1% Americans owned about 35% of the country’s wealth while the bottom 80% owned 15%. The remaining 50% is owned by 19% after the richest 1%. The protestors have a mixed background including socialists, liberals, anarchists, political independents, environmentalists and libertarians. This represented America as a nation of different cultures and people, who can come together for a common cause.
There was also a summary of the protestors in gender, age and race. About half of those I interviewed said they were ready to support civil disobedience in order to achieve their goals. I sought to have their views on the issue of taxes; most of them said they supported tax raise on the richest Americans. They said that the government is supposed to guarantee access to affordable health care and higher education.
A Demands Working Group was formed to come up with a list of their grievances. They wanted a concrete set of national policy proposals, while others wanted localized set of goals. Despite my failure to come up with a more unified goal for the movement, there was a fairly coherent message; the protestors wanted an equal distribution of wealth, better jobs, bank reform, and also a reduction of the influence that the rich and corporations have on politics.
On October 6, the owner of Zuccotti Park, Brookfield Office Properties, wanted the park evacuated for cleaning to be done the following morning. The park had not been cleaned since the 16th and as a result, the cleanliness of the park became an issue. However, the protestors swore to continue with their occupation, and as a result some of them clashed with the police resulting into arrest of many. The police cleared the camp and would not allow the protestors back with tents.
I connect the protests to the American Revolution, which reflects two broad schools of interpretation. They both have a political and intellectual connection. While one might see the protest as a part of defense of certain ideals and principles, I think of it as a social and economic experience. Both the revolution and the protests have social and economic forces behind them. Due to hard economic times, social groups are forced to undertake such social gatherings so as to force changes in the economy or the society at large. In this case, they want bridging in the gap between the rich and the poor. Many conflicts over the years have been as a result of the conflict.
Our fore-fathers agreed that the American nation would be democratic, and that power would come from the people, and not from a supreme authority. This structure would guarantee the continuation of the American nation. Any infringement towards these ideals will result in protests such as the Wall Street Protest.
In conclusion, Adbusters Foundation had proposed that there should be peaceful occupation of Wall Street by protesters to condemn the growing difference in wealth among Americans, corporate influence on democracy, as well as the absence of legal framework to deal with the recent global financial crisis. Their main aim was to relate the protest to that of Tahrir Square. They had suggested the occupation through their email list and it was immediately taken up by many who joined the protest. Many groups encouraged its followers to be part of the protests including Anonymous (an Internet group), the NYC General Assembly, and the U.S. Day of Rage. The meeting was initially dominated by a traditional protest group using banners and speeches as their medium of communication. Then a small group broke off to sit on the grass some distance away. Their main aim was to reject a top-down vertical leadership structure, which favors only the rich.