An Occupy Wall Street Primer

Posted: 10/02/2011 in Activism, Capitalism, Inequalities, Justice, Politics, United States

I had some catching up to do on Occupy Wall Street this week. Why did I not know much about this thousands strong anti-corporate, anti-Wall Street movement sweeping the country? Here is a bit of what I’ve learned and a bit of what I think.

This is my fault and it is also the fault of the media which has consistently under-reported progressive activism. Despite that the largest anti-war protests in world history swept the globe in 2002-3, the media largely sat out the anti-war outcry and focused instead on the much more entertaining political drumbeat to war in the lead up to the Iraq invasion. There was no reason to expect the brilliant work of Billionaires for Bush, the efforts of Code Pink, or the grassroots firestorm in Wisconsin, just to name a few, to be any different.

But Occupy Wall Street does feel different and not because the media is paying attention to it (they largely aren’t). It feels different because it really feels like there are a lot of people out there who are out of options, for whom If not this, then what? is a legitimate question. I think the lull and distraction of entertainment is wearing off and the frustration has itched to the point of sparking action. One thing I’ve consistently read about this protests is that there are lots of young people, college students and recent graduates especially, in attendance who don’t have jobs and do have tons of debt. Looking at any press, however, it seems like there are a range of people with many ages and backgrounds represented. It would seem from the photographs that there are a range of people who feel that for them the economy is a failure.

The little bit of history I’ve read on the protests indicate that they started “as a call to arms from anti-consumerist magazine AdBusters” which is the same anti-consumerist magazine that got me to stop eating meat over eight-years ago (true story). The popular criticism in the media is that the protesters are not organized and demands are not clear. There is a fascinating and super educational report on Up with Chris Hayes on the organization and aims of Occupy Wall Street (it is the first segment on this clip). The movement is 14-days old and complaints are multitudinous and complex, so I think a little disorganization can be forgiven so far.

I agree that our economic system, focused on power and wealth accumulation rather than poverty reduction and shared prosperity, is a failure.

So, what’s going on down there? There’s lots of chanting, drumming, marching –standard street-protest stuff. There’s also apparently an amazing nightly General Assembly (which you will learn about if you watch the report linked above from Chris Hayes) where opinions are heard and decisions are made in a fascinating display of direct democracy. There are some confrontations with the police, like today where apparently 700 protesters were arrested. Protesters have also been attacked with pepper spray even though the movement has consistently been peaceful. They’ve been getting a lot of outside donations and support, especially food.

In other big news, big unions like the Transport Workers Union in New York, teachers unions, health-care unions, and progressive groups like are just now joining up, so it seems like we can expect this to get a lot bigger in the coming weeks which is sort of exciting, though I also feel wary and nervous for the participants. At my most un-cynical core, I wish them all the best and hope their progressive, inclusive, anti-corporate message grows and resonates and sparks positive change.

I snagged these pictures off the comments thread of the Huffington Post article and would love to credit them:

Some of the crowd on day 14 of the protests. Photographer unknown.


Amen to this man's message from day 14 of the protests. Photographer unknown.

  1. Shelley Megquier says:

    Thanks for your post, Elizabeth, and for sharing the Up with Chris Hayes video. Following the Occupy Wall Street news from over here has been an ongoing inspiration…

  2. Shelley Megquier says:

    Hey ES. There have been people out protesting down in Portland. It’s great to see. Hope you are doing well there. Great pictures.

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