Occupy Wall Street is a people-powered movement that began on September 17, 2011 in Liberty Square in Manhattan’s Financial District, and has spread to over 100 cities in the United States and actions in over 1,500 cities globally. OWS is fighting back against the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process, and the role of Wall Street in creating an economic collapse that has caused the greatest recession in generations.
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The Occupy Wall Street Movement started out against corporate greed on the Wall Street and oriented itself as being the representation of the ‘rest 99%’ of the United States population. The idea behind this movement though was inspired from and improved upon from various other such movements that had started to rock regimes and governments around the word since early 2009. Antecedents for Occupy Wall Street (OWS) include the British student protests of 2010, as well as Greek and Spanish anti-austerity protests of the “indignados”.
OWS was initiated by Kalle Lasn and Micah White of Adbusters, a Canadian anti-consumerist publication, who conceived of a June 2011 occupation in lower Manhattan. 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 iconic Charging Bull statue.
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. Nearby Zuccotti 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.
One common thing with OWS and its antecedents was 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.
Goals of the movement:
OWS’s goals include a more balanced distribution of income, more and better jobs, bank reform (including reduction or elimination of profits earned by banks), a reduction in the influence of corporations on politics, forgiveness of student loan debt or other relief for indebted students, and alleviation of the foreclosure situation which accounted for 20% of homes sold in 2011, as well as the replacement of capitalism with a democratic political and economic system. The group that favoured specific demands created a document entitled the 99 Percent Declaration which failed to garner any support.
However, some OWS participants are opposed to setting demands, saying they would limit the movement by implying conditions and limiting the duration of the movement. Also clearly specifying the demands would be a counterproductive legitimization of the very power structures the movement seeks to challenge.
Impact of the movement
In December 2011, the world argued that the movement had had a global impact, altering “the terms of the political debate” as it reached to more than 20 countries namely Australia, United Kingdom, Germany, Spain and many more. In the United States, the protests have helped shift the national dialogue from the deficit to economic problems many ordinary Americans face, such as unemployment, the large amount of student and other personal debt that burdens middle class and working class Americans, and other major issues of social inequality, such as homelessness.
The movement appears to have generated an international conversation about income inequality. The Occupy movement raised awareness regarding undeserved wealth and lack of fairness in the society.
Other commentators have taken a more critical view, suggesting the occupy movement has been a disruptive waste of time. In Spain, where the movement once had the support of well over 70% of the population with millions taking part, the popularity of Occupy is now past its peak and has achieved no consequences of any significance.
Notwithstanding how effective or impactful the movement may have seemed in the beginning it has become clear now that it has failed to bring about any major reforms or even a noteworthy response from the government. This is not only the present status of the Wall Street movement but also of similar occupy movements around the world.
Many have argued that a lack of unified aims has prevented the movement from making any note-worthy impact on mainstream politics. The consensus form of decision making of the movement has also earned criticism for being the supposed cause for the lack of emergence of any aims or demands from the movement. The movement does not have a face. It lacks leaders but protestors argue that this doesn’t mean that the movement lacks leadership. Its emphasis on participatory democracy means that it shuns any form of hierarchical power structure. The movement has facilitators who conduct the General Assembly and provide the platform and opportunity for people to voice their opinions.
The Occupy Movement is essentially a form of protest against social and economic inequality that commenced with the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protest. This protest movement began on September 17th, 2011 with protests in Zuccotti Park, New York City, against corporate greed on Wall Street. The movement was initiated by a Canadian group called Adbusters and inspired by a number of protest movements around the world like the Arab Spring. Their plan was “to flood lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and Occupy Wall Street” and it was promoted with a poster featuring a dancer atop the iconic Charging Bull of Wall Street. The slogan of the movement was ‘We are the 99%’, revealing that the movement is about the rest of America that bore the brunt of the financial crisis while the bankers of Wall Street who arguably caused the crisis, got financial bailouts from Congress. It also refers to the concentration of wealth among the wealthiest 1% of America. Statistics from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reveal that between 1979 and 2007 the income of the wealthiest 1% of the USA grew by 275% while middle class Americans witnessed a mere 40% growth in their income.
The movement attracted a great deal of criticism for mainly two reasons-one, that the protest did not have a clear aim and two, that it did not have any leaders. The movement initially received flak, even scorn on occasion, from the media for not having any direction. A Robin Hood style tax that targets the wealthy has also been discussed but nothing concrete has emerged from the movement. Many have argued that a lack of unified aims has prevented the movement from making any note-worthy impact on mainstream politics. The consensus form of decision making of the movement has also earned criticism for being the supposed cause for the lack of emergence of any aims or demands from the movement.
The Occupy Wall Street Movement spawned similar movements all over the world from London to Toronto, from Hong Kong to Auckland. As the movement got a response from the West and the East alike, authorities sat up and took attention. A number of arrests were made and Occupy protestors reported clashes with the police, arrests and indiscriminate use of pepper spray. After a number of concerns were raised about the behaviour of protestors in Zuccotti Park as well as the sanitary conditions at the site, police evicted the protestors on the night of November 14th. Similar eviction drives were carried out in a number of other cities like Oakland, Zurich and London. The Edinburgh City Council became the first governmental body to grant the Occupy movement official recognition, which it did on November 24th.
The movement has not evoked any major response from governments. Apart from attracting eyeballs for protesting at important locations, a lack of direction and leadership meant that determined action by the police left the protestors at sea. Today, with protestors evicted from the major Occupy sites in the world, the movement looks like it may die a slow death. However, one can never estimate the impact of people scorned by a financial crisis and an indifferent government.