The Occupy Wall Street protest movement has now entered its tenth day. Describing itself as a “leaderless resistance movement with people of many colours, genders and political persuasions” who, “(l)ike our brothers and sisters in Egypt, Greece, Spain, and Iceland…plan to use the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic of mass occupation to restore democracy in America”, Occupy Wall Street is a coalition of people with one thing in common -- being part of the “99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%”.
The protest movement hoped to see 20,000 people flooding into lower Manhattan on September 17, setting up beds, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupying Wall Street for a few months while they together worked out ‘one common demand’. They also hoped for front page coverage in the major newspapers that would highlight their cause. Neither objective, unfortunately, was met.
While organizers claimed 2000 participants on the first day, media houses put the figure at closer to 700 people who managed to make their presence felt and set up camp amidst heavy police presence. About 300 slept in the park and about 100 continue to do so. The coverage in the newspapers – even left-leaning publications – has been minimal, hardly surprising given the lack of ‘incidents’ and considering the big business links of most media houses.
The original call for this occupation was published as a double-page ad in July by Adbusters -- a ‘global network of culture jammers and creatives working to change the way information flows, the way corporations wield power, and the way meaning is produced in our society.’ Quickly taken over by independent activists who set up an open source organizing site, the movement has seen the innovative use of social media to spread its message and deal with the small necessities of mass protests -- when they tweeted to the world, for example, that they were hungry, a nearby pizzeria received $2,800 in orders for delivery in a single hour. The protest is resonating with similar protests around the world and support – in the form of food, money, messages and even people – are pouring in.
Non-violence is an essential ground-rule at the protest with participants succeeding in putting forth an interesting array of tried and true methods of garnering attention – from gate-crashing a nearby Sotheby’s art auction (where paintings are bought at astronomical prices by many of those responsible for the financial ruin of ordinary Americans) to old-fashioned marching while singing and sloganeering, to girls posing topless to show how Wall Street had ‘stolen the shirt off our back’ (albeit with a sign that said ‘I didn’t say look, I said listen’!) And it is predictable that it is the flakier of the protest methods that get the most press with corporate media trying hard to belittle the protest… But many of the protestors have clear reasons for being on Wall Street (or as close to it as the NYPD will let them get) and can reel off the exact tax rates and figures to illustrate the growing inequality in the USA. As with any mass protest, the participants themselves span the entire spectrum – from people who have given up jobs as managers and teachers to pensioners cheated of their retirement funds by executives who still offer themselves bonuses to those who have come to show solidarity from other countries like Spain -- and of course idealistic young people who want to make the world a better place. The encampment in Zuccotti Park is remarkably well-organised, transformed as one newspaper put it “from a spot where Wall Streeters grab a lunchtime sandwich into an informal camp of revolutionaries, socialists, anarchists and quite a lot of the just-plain-annoyed.”
Public figures like Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky have extended their unequivocal support. In a message to Occupy Wall Street, Chomsky writes: “Anyone with eyes open knows that the gangsterism of Wall Street -- financial institutions generally -- has caused severe damage to the people of the United States (and the world). And should also know that it has been doing so increasingly for over 30 years, as their power in the economy has radically increased, and with it their political power. That has set in motion a vicious cycle that has concentrated immense wealth, and with it political power, in a tiny sector of the population, a fraction of 1%, while the rest increasingly become what is sometimes called "a precariat" -- seeking to survive in a precarious existence. They also carry out these ugly activities with almost complete impunity -- not only too big to fail, but also "too big to jail."…”
Moore, for his part, has been urging those who have been dispossessed of their homes to reclaim them and re-occupy them (who can forget the opening sequence of his film Capitalism: A Love Story which shows a family trying to hang on to the home they are being physically thrown out of?)
There has also been speculation in the media as to why New York city has not seen more people join in the protest. The Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans includes more than 50 New Yorkers whose combined net worth totaled $211 billion, while census data shows the percentage of the city’s population living in poverty to now be 20.1 percent. Some time back, commenting on the growing gap between rich and the poor and the increasingly difficult prospects of jobs and security for the young, Mayor Michael Bloomburg had said that job riots in New York were more than likely. "The public is not happy," he said. "The public knows there is something wrong......they're upset."
But as we have seen repeatedly in that other big city teetering on the brink of perpetual mass discontent, Mumbai, the residents seem to be just too busy surviving to take time off to protest for a prolonged period of time.
So far the protests have seen just a few unprovoked acts of violence -- and that too on the part of a handful of police officers (recorded and widely circulated) -- unlike the disturbingly violent anti-WTO protests seen in recent years. These incidents too have been met with non-violence by the protestors who have urged the blue-shirted policemen not to take the fall for the misdeeds of their superiors -- 'disobey your orders' they urge them, 'join us for coffee'...
The protestors are hoping to occupy this space for several months to come, until they all manage to come up with one united demand that will go some way towards setting right the terrible crimes committed by financiers against the ordinary working person, but as police action toughened up over the past few days it remains to be seen how far this plan will succeed.
-- Ref: NY Times, September 25, 2011, The Techherald, Guardian September 19, 2011.