Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Why They Occupy - an investigative article by PJ Peek

Occupy Wall Street first begun its campaign September 17th, 2011 in Zuccotti Park, New York City. The Zuccotti Park Occupy Wall Street Public Relations states that “the original objectives of the OWS movement is to create a democratic process for addressing the problem of the power of Wall St. over our government and wealth inequality.” At this point, the movement has grown and adopted many additional issues. The overall theme is that OWS wants true democracy where the 99% make decisions, not the 1% of the population that controls all of our wealth. The change that the OWS movement in Zuccotti park wants to see is “a return to real democracy and take the power back from the 1% who control all of the wealth.” Officials stated that they are doing this by organizing direct democracy in their own communities.
Currently, the Occupy movement has spread to over 1200 cities, according to the Occupytogether.org website. Because this is a movement, and not an organization, the only common connection between the other 1200 cities who occupy is the common message that they share, one official stated that “they are all autonomous groups in their own right” and therefore an over arching governance does not apply to all of the movements. While this movement does not have any specific goals, officials believe that this movement will envision a better society, and will not end soon.
Occupy Wall Street/ America is operated by a consensus, where every members voice is heard, according to one official. While they think that society should not be run in the same fashion, the believe that there is a form of governance where each members opinion can be voiced and incorporated to the governance of this movement. Currently, a written proposal asking for change by the government is not being drafted, however as stated by an official “But anything is possible in the future. It all depends on what the group decides democratically.” It was also stated that the OWS organizers and members want to put more pressure on the government to make fundamental changes “so that money is not the most influential currency in the very institutions that are supposed to serve us.”
Currently, many young individuals are involved in this movement, especially on college campuses. However, the age range of participants are diverse, ranging from college students protesting rising tuition, graduate students protesting the down economy and lack of jobs, 30-40 year old participants protesting the down economy, and difficult economic times to try and stay in control of personal fiances, as well as those who are 55 and older who may have jobs, but are protesting because they fear for their children not being able to find jobs. The average participant at OWS is the average person one can find find walking down the street
What seems intriguing is that, the individuals who reply to press inquires state that there is not a governing body that oversees what the various Occupy movements do across the country. Additionally, the OWS movements, according to officials in Zuccotti Park, state that “We want to a return to real democracy.” Democracy, as stated by the Merriam-Webster dictionary,  is a government by the common people, a ruling of the majority where the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by the people where a system of representation involves elections of officials.
This global movement, Occupy, has spread quickly, and through media coverage is quickly becoming a more well know movement. The Occupy movement is represented in nearly every major City across America, and in major Cities around the World. This movement went viral starting in September due to the use of social media and video sharing online. Had it not been for the statements written on signs of protesters, and the use of the internet, Occupy Wall Street would not have gained as much momentum and public notice as it has, with supports such as David Paterson, Russell Simmons, and Michael Moore. Through the use of social media, protest websites, and online video sharing sites; the world has seen videos of individuals proclamations to the movements, as well as several images of the Occupy Movement across the country, and world where people are eager to make a change. Currently, individuals are occupying the public space with their presence and spending time holding signs of why they are the 99%.
At Occupy Denver, located just across the Colorado State Capitol at Civic Center Park, protesters occupied Lincoln Avenue and the Civic Center Park. In an interview with three individuals, it was clear that the Occupy Denver movement had a different take than other cities. Three individuals, Matt, Dwayne Anthony Hudson Sr., and Tim Johnson all spoke their opinions regarding Occupy.
Dwayne Anthony Hudson Sr., was a very enthusiastic man who proudly stated “I am homeless, a veteran of the Vietnam War, and waiting for veteran housing”. Dwayne was also excited that on this particular Wednesday November 23, 2011 a vast majority were also African-American protesters. Dwayne explained that in order to make the Occupy movement successful, “America needs to bring more jobs back home” and he began to write his personal declaration:
corporate greed and its practices have impacted the environment in ways that kill people, and eco-systems.
Politicians who have been hired by the corporations turn a blind eye to the corporate terrorist acts.

This is not just a White, Black, Indian, Spanish American movement. This movement is global.
Thus we must raise our visions, voices, and concerns beyond our own personal group, click, clan and tribal concerns; and focus on ways to defeat the real terrorist, the people who are having a devastating affect on America, and the world.

We envision creating the type of America that Evokes the spirit of - We the People, for the people, and by the people in order to create a better and prosperous America
We must reverse the policies and practices of a few that are having a devastating effect on us. The 99%

He continued to explain that “there is a better sense of community in the public housing projects, where people have to work and help each other whereas in the suburbs people leave their house, drive to work, come home, and stay in their house. No one out there truly knows their neighbor, yet they are only concerned with themselves.” Dwayne Hudson, has taken the initiative to fight for something he strongly believes in, and continues to share his thoughts with those who take time and ask ‘why do you occupy Denver?’.
Tim Johnson, an actor and a protester stated that he has “participated in protests since the late 1960’s” and has been to both Los Angeles and New York City Occupy Wall Street protests. Johnson has carried the same sign, he said, for a year now, it reads: “Apathy, Fear, Indifference Buy 1 Get 2 Free”. Johnson continued to explain that he wrote this sign, and initially stood in Cheery Creek, a wealthier area of Denver Colorado,  alone to demonstrate that America is apathetic, fearful, and indifferent; meaning, America does not have feelings for individuals, is indifferent to what others do, and fearful of what will happen to their funding. Johnson believes that “America is falling into a downfall with their bad habits”. He continued to turn around and question me “look at the people in the park, now look at the number of people standing on the sidewalk with signs - the people who are sitting in the park would usually be there anyway, but they have conformed to the Occupy Denver, because of the food kitchen set up. Those of us who actively participate in the protest are displaying our signs, showing the public that we want change.”
On college campuses across America, students have adapted the messages of what Occupy protesters have been saying, and have adapted it to what many feel is the outrageous and rising cost of college tuition.Current college and university students have also become part of the Occupy protest nationally. Elizabeth Harris, writing for the New York Times, reported that at Cal Berkley “about 3,000 people gathered on Sproul Plaza to protest tuition increases, and many then set up a camp. Demonstrators linked arms to protest their tents, but police officers broke through and took down more than a dozen tents, arresting about 40 protesters. University officials said they had watched city governments struggle to deal with expanding campsites and decide to take a stricter line: no tents, no sleeping, period.”
While the University of California at Berkeley is taking the lead in national news for college protesting, and refuting the increase in college tuition, college students nationally are forming their opinion about the Occupy Wall Street movement. Students from various colleges across the country contributed their thoughts via Facebook about the movement:

Charlie Gallagher, a senior at Southern Methodist University first stated that he thought the movement is silly, however he progressed to further explain his claim. Gallagher states “the general public has no idea what they are fighting against some say capitalism, some say for the 99%”. Furthermore it was expressed that  the exploitation of the public by the ‘1%’ which has been taking place since the dawn of civilization. Gallagher also stated that “[he] thinks its no coincidence there is high percentage of participants that are unemployed.” Gallagher’s opinion continued on to express thoughts that a no revolution can continue on without violence happening and that he would never be in support of such acts. A paralleled thought to that of Tim Johnson emerged when Gallagher then stated “first the public must educate themselves in order to change the system they exist in, and no government will provide that for them because it is costly and may cause questioning.” Change must come from the public first then, be facilitated by the government.

While Gallagher admired the idea of the Federal Reserve, he believes that it is literally the sole cause of “inflation and amplifies [the] returns for the large banks due to the entire idea of a trickle down theory.” Additionally, he commented that the public should not pay for the bailouts of larger corporations that were ineffectively managed.  

In the future, Gallagher expressed that he would like to see intelligently crafted action by the Occupy movement. Furthermore, he added that he would like to see the public vote according to their beliefs and not what is enforced upon them. It is Gallagher’s opinion that “politicians only exist to obtain votes so they have no heart or soul, that is the public's job to keep it alive and we haven't for decades.”

In his final statement Gallagher stated “in short … Our youth is mindless, our government is socialist (and by the way I am not just saying Obama because GWB was the most socialist president we have had since FDR between his no child left behind, medicare, and cut taxes, he raised the debt by trillions, in fact the medicare bill he passed has cost the public more than triple what the entire war has costed), and we are owned by China. We need to innovate and become more productive, no sit on our asses asking for change.”

Zak Pollack, a senior from Boston University wrote on October 11th, 2011 that a number of peaceful protests occurred in Boston over the past wee, where many have been near the financial district and Newberry St (the upscale shopping area). Pollack commented that “these protests have been orderly and relatively quiet.”

“However, yesterday (Monday, Oct 10) many BU students decided to get involved with the Occupy Boston protests” Pollack explained, that the students left Boston University’s Marsh Plaza and headed towards downtown Boston to express their opinions. However, several people were arrested, “including the legal advisor of the protests who is now countersuing the city.” According to Pollack, no one was brutalized or beat by law enforcement, unlike other videos from New York at Zuccotti Park.

While Pollack can understand and empathize with the majority of what is being said by the protesters, he believes that “the fundamental unfairness of the US political and economic system is evident and rampant.” Concluding that he also thinks that the actions of these protests are doing little to be effective. Pollack also stated that a political movement needs many things to be successful; including leadership to set goals and to have detailed steps in order to get their policies implemented to the current political and economic system. Pollack believes that the Occupy movement comes up short on all three accounts.

“Many of my friends and myself would like to see these protests manifest themselves into less of an abstract dissatisfaction and into a political movement” stated Pollack, “but until someone takes leadership of the movement and concrete goals are announced with policies to go along with them I and many other BU students will probably remain on the sidelines.”

On November 26th, 2011 Robert Giachetti from University of Pennsylvania said that his overall opinion on the movement is negative. Giachetti thinks that “the movement is devoid of any legitimate form of leadership or organization.”  The movement’s main goal of occupying pubic space has been made clear, yet as Giachetti explained, “nothing is going to be accomplished by having these people camp out and make a mockery of the right to assembly. Their mission has to be substantially reframed.” Giachetti appreciates the hardships many of the protestors however, he thinks that these protests are not productive and “are frankly embarrassing.”  

While the economic inequality may not be solely isolated to Wall Street, Giachetti thinks that  Wall Street is ultimately is the sole cause of the Occupiers plight. The financial district and Wall Street represent a strong and convenient symbol to blame, but “camping out in Zuccotti Park for weeks on end in deplorable conditions will accomplish nothing” Giachetti stated. “If the jobs they’re trying to get rid of in NY – the people that work in finance, which is a crucial part of the U.S. economy – go away,” he continues “ we won’t have any money to pay municipal employees or clean the parks they are soiling.”  Currently, the protests have cost the NYPD almost  $2 million in on-duty overtime.

One problem that Giachetti has with the protesters is that when people are demonstrating , often rash demands are made, however, solutions are necessarily provided by those who complain.  One solutions Giachetti suggests is that “If they want to change America, they should form a massive voter registration drive and put up their own candidates.” His confusion continues with trying to understand how protesters can attempt to change America by occupying parks. “You change the political order by voting and putting up candidates who can make a difference”, Giachetti explains. Protesters should channel this energy towards the politicians in Congress who refuse to create taxes for the richest 1%, thus allowing spending cuts to go into effect which further hinder the economic prosperity for the 99%.  If the protesters continue on the current path, Giachetti claims “I don’t envision the movement having any positive political ramifications. I never thought I would agree with Newt Gingrich and it may sound coarse, but I feel it’s time for these people to go home, take a bath, and get a job.”

Ellie Bryant, a senior at Sweet Briar College, gave her comments about the Occupy movement on November 8th, 2011 “though I think this movement has legitimate ideas to draw attention to- ultimately I doubt it will work.” Bryant explains that the reasons she thinks that this movement will not work is due to the fact that regardless of who is on top there will always be corruption. With great power comes great responsibility, “which for the average person becomes a kraken that is almost impossible to wrestle with” Bryant explains. Examples of taking advantage of power include “many of the most corrupt governments or the majority of insurgencies in the world... [t]hey would have no idea how to run the market on a global scale.” Furthermore, Bryant thinks that as this movement continues grow, she believes that the movement will loose focus. There are many things for Americans to be upset about, which ultimately can be included in the Occupy movement. However, Bryant thinks that the Occupy Wall Street movement plans on using tactics akin to that of the Arab Spring. These tactics, she thinks will ultimately give up on. Bryant also stated “I am proud of the movement as a Libertarian, but ultimately I believe it will fizzle. I feel the movement is inspired by how suffocated the American people feel. The movement is a rejection of power of the economic elite etc...the bourgeoisie(in the marxist sense), possibly.”

Although Bryant said that she would support this movement, she also finds it difficult to understand why people who are obviously part of the system are trying to rebel against what they themselves buy into.

Based on historical examples, Bryant offers the critique for the Occupy Wall Street movement to look at history. For example, Coxey's Army in 1894, which was protest of unemployed workers in Washington DC, and the Bonus Army in 1932, where 17,000 WWI veterans and family members marched in DC protesting their demand for immediate cash payment. Specifically, Bryant recommends that the Occupy protesters look at the economic climate in which both these movements took place in, and what success they had. Bryant thinks that the more relevant of these two historical events would be Coxey's Army, which ended up fizzling out, similar to the way she predicts OWS will.

Overall, the students reaction to this movement is that without fundamental demands, and a form of structure, the Occupy Wall Street movement will not continue much longer - nor make an impact on the government regulations. Generally, students believe that the OWS movement is devoid of any substantial importance nor will make a change. Students who were interviewed were more concerned with how the federal reserve will further impact the economy, which in turn effects the livelihood of job security, and financial stability. Additionally, while students may support this movement, none know the impact that this protest will have upon themselves, nor the rest of America.
While students have voice their opinion; older protesters have stated their thoughts, which ultimately contradict what students have stated. Protesters at the Occupy Denver believed that it will take time for this protest to gain momentum, and the majority believed that the protest will continue on for longer than what others expect, and will ultimately make a change. Tim Johnson thinks that “this protest will continue on for another year or two, because we need to make change, and for that to happen, the policy must change so that we can make a difference.” Dwayne also believed that “this protest will last longer than some people think.”
Interviewed OWS protesters, and Public Relations officials from New York City both have stated their beliefs and desire for a new change in democracy - making this country more equal among the citizens, and evening out the playing field for all. The statements of OWS participants state a need for resurrection in democracy where change in governance and policy is needed.
College students across the nation attend higher education to gain knowledge to contribute to society. However some students have joined the OWS movement to proest the down economy and raise in tuition, while others believe that the OWS movement will not succeed. An interview with a college professor Spencer Bakich, a government professor at Sweet Briar College states that his “assessment of the Occupy Wall Street movement's chance of affecting economic policy in the next year and a half is not favorable at all.” Bakich thinks that this movement will not succeed because the only policy option on the radar is the President's ‘jobs bill’.  This bill, was put forth prior to the OWS's emergence, and stood little chance of passage because of two main reasons. First, the Republicans control the House, additionally the Democrats do not hold a sizable enough majority in the Senate to beat back a filibuster. Second, the only pressure that OWS can exert is to the Democrats. OWS is not a part of any Republicans constituency, as such, the first point made does not fundamentally change given the second point.  Finally, OWS itself is presently, an inchoate expression of discontent, as Bakich states, it lacks the organization and funding.  It is much more likely to fizzle than explode.
Similarly, Joe Craig, an economics professor at Sweet Briar College also sates that he thinks that this movement will not have much effect on the government's decision at all. Craig said, “I think this is an issue that everyone knows about, and no one really knows how to fix.” Continuing, he stated that greed drives economics, and motivates people.  It's very difficult to decide how much greed is enough, and what is too much. Therefore it doesn't mean that OWS is not a great idea or noble to try it. However, Craig doubts that OWS will have an effect on government officials unless it is much larger than it currently is.”
For a resolution to the Occupy Wall Street movement to occur, clear demands need to be developed, along with a governing voice to lead the people towards achieving the demands that the 99% wish to achieve. Various individuals have expressed why they are the 99%. College students are protesting the increase of college tuition during a down economy, and the difficulty to find employment. Individuals who are fifty-five and older are protesting against the economy, either due to the fact that they face financial struggles; or that they are concerned for the younger generations who will be trying enter the workforce and become financially stable. While this movement is not a just a “White, Black, Indian, Spanish American movement” as Hudson proclaims, “This movement is global. Thus we must raise our visions, voices, and concerns”. However, “We need to innovate and become more productive, no sitting on our asses asking for change”, says Gallagher. “Someone needs to read a history book or a Gandhi quote for we must be the change we want to see in the world, and if we are doing that presently [then] we want mindless, lazy, free riders, who work for nothing they take, and our end will materialize right before our eyes...”

Images from Occupy C'ville: Taken by PJ Peek

Images of Occupy Denver: Taken by PJ Peek

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