Don’t dismiss the Wall Street occupation

September 26, 2011

It would seem that a populist uprising against corporate greed would find a widely approving audience, yet the current occupation of Wall Street has mostly been received with a mix of muted support and mockery. The now week old protest, which has been reported to have attracted several hundred activists this past weekend, is struggling to be understood.

There is no leader, by design, and the demands are still being formed by General Assemblies, a loose group of protesters who gather to discuss their grievances with what they see as a system that takes from the middle class and poor and protects the rich. They represent what they call “the 99%,” the population outside of top 1% of income earners.

Protesters complained early on that they were not receiving attention from mainstream media, so they took to social media, using the hashtag #occupywallst (and apparently spreading to #occupyboston #occupyLA #occupydenver #occupytexas #occupynola #occupychi #occupyphoenix as well,) sharing minute by minute accounts on Twitter, posting photos and video, and live streaming nearly the entire time.

The claims that there is a lack of mainstream coverage doesn’t seem to hold water, and could simply be a ploy to encourage even more coverage. The protests have been covered by ReutersThe New York Times, and major networksAnonymous and Ad Busters are major promoters and loose organizers of the protests but the movement doesn’t appear to be born directly from the groups.

Are they a mob of over-privileged, unemployed trustafarians? Many of them likely are. Does it matter? Dismiss them if you will, they’re motivated and mobilized. An apathetic population asked to foot the bill for the fallout from credit default swaps is exactly what the 1% ordered. The last few years the country has been told to fear an economic collapse if the masses fail to fork over what amounts to corporate welfare, and more recently, that more jobs will be lost if we close tax loopholes. Many claim that these protesters are anti-capitalist, but most are simply disillusioned by a form of capitalism they suggest is so far out of whack that the opportunity for bootstrap pulling is nearly non-existent. They propose that the current environment unapologetically favors the richest of the rich.

There is concern, by people like Ginia Bellafonte the New York Times, that these protesters are simply flakes. These are a “noble but fractured and airy movement of rightly frustrated young people.” She refers to the gathering as a “carnival” and uses quotes of ridiculous demands, to “get rid of the combustion engine” and their muddled unfocused kaleidoscope of “liberal” causes: “concerns about the death penalty, the drug war, the environment.”

Bellafonte paints the picture so it can be easy for the comfortable Times readers to dismiss these seemingly misguided youth. Where have I heard this before? If you’re someone of my age, a thirty-something, ask your parents. Chances are they were once young and “misguided” and maybe even motivated by the likes of merry pranksters like Abbie Hoffman. Many of them likely would easily have identified with these so-called court jesters. Every movements starts somewhere and often it begins with very lofty ideas and few well-defined tactics. A week in, their goal was simply to do exactly what their namesake describes: occupy and control the public space in or near Wall Street, to have their presence felt and voices heard, even while they haven’t yet found the words.

To give Bellafonte the benefit of the doubt, even a supporter, in the form of successful tech entrepreneur Tim O’Reilly, was disheartened by the attire and approach of the protesters, if not the cause. If only the protesters dressed more formally, acted like grownups and came with a power-point presentation outlining their demands, maybe they’d be taken more seriously.

This weekend, the police, who up until then had been relatively docile, began to flex their muscles. Photos and videos documented alleged incidents of police brutality:

(links via Pantless Progressive)

Police pen up and mace female protesters [Raw Story]

Young man arrested simply for walking down the street [laurasthinkingwithportals]

Protester thrown over barricade by police [Video shot by Daniel Fitzsimmons, link via evanfleischer]

Protester shouts, “Is this what you’re about?”, gets cuffed [@LibertyPlazaRev]

Officer pushes sitting protester, man stands up, cops arrest him [@LilKing420s]

Cops Tackle, Mace Wall St. Protesters for No Obvious Reason [Gawker]

The movement has been steadfast in imploring members to remain non-violent, in response to apparent police violence.

For every Ginia Bellafonte, they have a Chris Hedges, a Noam Chomksy and an Amy Goodman. While Bellafonte found the silliest in the crowd to quote, Goodman found David Graeber who teaches at the University of London.

“For the last 30 years, we’ve seen a political battle being waged by the super-rich against everyone else, and this is the latest move in the shadow dance, which is completely dysfunctional economically and politically. It’s the reason why young people have just abandoned any thought of appealing to politicians. We all know what’s going to happen. The tax proposals are a sort of mock populist gesture, which everyone knows will be shot down. What will actually probably happen would be more cuts to social services.”

Perhaps that kind of quote doesn’t fit into the neat narrative of misguided, yet noble, cast of characters wasting their wealthy parents money at a sleepover in the park that Bellafonte was looking to portray. I’m not naive enough to think Graeber is representative of the crowd as a whole, but I also haven’t had the last ounce of idealism beaten out of me to think the inmates are completely running the asylum. The answer, I think, lies somewhere in between and if successful and given time to evolve, could inspire others in America to find the will and motivation to finally stop allowing themselves to be taken advantage of.


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Anyone who is well off or in the media wants to view this through their own kaleidoscope of distorted reality rather admit the protesters are right. The message has been clear from the very beginning, the protesters are the 99% percent of the population who are against the corporate greed of the top 1%. Only people in our media who are completely unaware of the gulf oil spill, the bank bailout, high unemployment, labor concerns and corporate censorship would view this as a protest with an unorganized message. The protest is only starting to show up in the media, it took a week of demonstration and 80 arrests for that to happen.

Posted by dhsredhead | Report as abusive

The “over-privileged, unemployed trustafarians” are also known as “the Bourgeoisie” and they’re the ones who create revolutions in systems.

I think you’re right on the money – this is just the start. First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

Posted by MikeCaprio | Report as abusive

One of the videos you link to “Protestor thrown over barricade by police [evanfleischer]” was actually shot by Daniel Fitzsimmons and Mr. Fleischer put it up on his site, where he credited Mr. Fitzsimmons. Mr. Fitzsimmons is a working journalist and would appreciate being credited in this story. Thank you.


Posted by AmJournalist | Report as abusive

Individual agendas aside, the one thing this group has in common is the one thing the government and major corporations should take note of – They are banded together in their belief that neither of the above is moving in a direction which will ultimately make their lives and the lives of future generations better. More and more people are joining the ranks of impoverished, disillusioned soon to be majority populace. While there are crack pots in every movement, those in charge should take note that the majority supporting through tweets, facebook and google+ reposts are not crackpots, but once were productive middle class college grads who have paid into a system which ultimately abandoned them in their darkest time of need. They have lost jobs, homes cars and their families have been ripped to shreds but an economic collaps not of their doing. A word of advice, fear the man who has nothing to lose and everything to gain. That is where many people are now at. We’ve already lost it all. What else can they take from us?

Posted by TerriCalhoun | Report as abusive

The police brutality is completely unacceptable. Hope these women sue the NYPD. Having said that, please stop judging those of us who choose not to waste our time in showy protests or try to grab our 15 minutes of fame for the evening news footage (and then are disappointed when the “event” isn’t covered).

There are very real ways to work to change the system, legislatively. And most of us who care deeply about the country, the workforce, and the economy are hard at works where it matters — with our Senators and Representatives and lobbying efforts.

Posted by AngelFace | Report as abusive

Welcome to the Fascist States of Corporate Bankers (USA)!

Posted by M3minusGDP | Report as abusive

AngelFace you are very wrong when you think this people do it for their 15 minutes of fame. You should go with them sometime, in a safe environment, to make sure you do not have your 15 minutes of fame and will fill ashamed of your way of thinking know.
This is told you by a 72 years all man that when ever possible am with them avoiding only when I can expect violence, this only because of my age, I do not need a broken bone. I need health and vitality to continue the struggle for you, your children and grandchildren, against the evil you see and do nothing, you wait for voting a a way to exert your right to change.
Sorry the vote will not give you the desired results, the Congress people with the Corporations have taken care of that.

Posted by ONEMORE | Report as abusive

Though it may seem this group is disorganized, they should be appalled! It is about time people took to the streets to send the Banks and the Politicians a clear message! Obviously by voting out our last congress wasn’t enough to get our corrupt government to CLEAN up!
I haven’t seen anything on the nightly news, or my local new covering this story, since it began. As the crowds get bigger, it would seem they aren’t going to just go away. We need real reform and we need it yesterday!
The NYPD are out of control! The unnecessary brutality must be stopped and does that NY cop with his little video camera think he and his co workers look better to the public? Get a grip NYPD, stop the beatings and unjustified arrests!

Posted by cynthanny | Report as abusive

Dear @AngelFace Do you know which of your legislators are ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) members? Because if they are I fear you’re not going “to change the system”. ALEC is a secretive, Koch Bros-backed organization of 300 of the most powerful corporations and 2,000 state legislators. Corporate-approved “model bills” are introduced into state legislatures by compliant ALEC-member legislators in return for campaign contributions and other perks. These bills get voted into law and benefit corporations at the expense of the public. This conspiracy has been wildly successful and has gone a long way towards undermining the United States through state law. Many ALEC alum (including Boehner & Cantor) now are in Congress and have brought ALEC sensibilities with them. Others (like Scott Walker) have become state Governors.

Unless your legislators are free from ALEC influence, you are wasting your time trying to work with them, Check the ALECexposed web site for a list of known ALEC members. Look at the corporate members too and please boycott their consumer products. Thank you.

Posted by tovangar2 | Report as abusive

It’s amazing that Wall Street is surpirsed by all the activists, which I am referring to as “We the People Occupy” because they are representing me and 99% of the rest of America. I am behind them, and am glad to know people are handing out pizzas and other food for them. I can’t wait until I can get there to join them. The activists are not crazzy, they are just pissed off like the rest of us. They are not anti-corporation, they are saying they want a job and to live the American Dream. America is tired of the greed, but national news is trying to tag a negative connotation behind the activists. 11/09/we-people-occupy-activists-not-ant i.html

Posted by aliciamitchell | Report as abusive

It is convenient to dismiss this protest, as it has been largely non-violent, the numbers are not as high as expected, and they are lacking leadership or a well structured demand.
But if we look at it in view of the other street protests all over the globe, we could see a trend appearing: more and more people, especially the younger generation are unhappy, and they are rightly so. The unemployment in the younger age groups is higher than ever in most of the developed countries, most of the young people do not have any secure future prospects, and in the deepening global crisis they do not even have hopes for quick recovery. The layers of society affected by the crisis are widening day by day.
They might not know how to articulate their unhappiness yet, but they feel that they cannot expect solutions from present day leaders, who only seem to be interested in their positions, re-elections, or in satisfying the lobbies supporting them.
I think these worldwide demonstrations are signs of a much deeper dissatisfaction, desperation which is worth paying attention to.
Today we have to look at everything considering the complete, global picture as we are interlocked in a mutual network, we cannot take incidents out of the world wide context.

Posted by ZGHerm | Report as abusive

I live in NYC and for years I roll my eyes at the coverage the NYT, FOX News, NY1, etc. will give to a small group of 5 protestors about bike lanes, yet completely ignore coverage or dismiss groups of 1000s when it doesn’t fit the agenda of their respective corporate owners.

The protest down on Wall STreet, and for those who do not know NYC downtown – it is a maze of small streets much like the Left Bank of Paris but of course with skyscrapers. It is usually completely empty outside of business hours except for the lines of tourists boarding ferries. EVen before the protests, Bloomberg has created a bunker situation all around the stock exchange – even tens years after 9-11!! It is a disgrace to NY history. Right across the street anarchists tried to blow up JP Morgan in the 1920s – yet NY didn’t back then to block off entire streets to the public afterwards.

Thank god for internet coverage of the protests, and esp. of the horrible police behavior in NYC. Most of NYC police live in the suburbs – not the city – and have a strong hatred for the city and its inhabitants.

I was in the march against the Iraq war before we invaded. There were 10,000s of people marching down 1st avenue on a weekend with a permit yet the police behaved much like you see in Syria, Egypt and Libya (well at least they didn’t use live ammo). So let’s hope this ad hoc group against Wall Street greed and government incompetence starts to get traction.

Posted by Acetracy | Report as abusive

I haven’t been able to find the protests mentioned on Google News, my major source for what are considered important news items these days. Because I typed in “Wall Street Protests” I found out that another protest is starting in Boston. The Tea Party was everywhere when they started, but this appears to be willfully suppressed by the media and I would like to know why? I realize these protestors are disorganized (unlike the Tea Party, which appears to have been funded by business interests), but as time is going on, they’re getting better at organization. And most important, they have been nonviolent. If violence were to break out, could I trust the media to do its job and make sure that the culprits weren’t from the outside trying to discredit the protestors? I have sympathy for people being inconvenienced by the protest, but this seemingly willful media silence only risks increasing my sympathy toward the protestors. Is that what the media wants to do? I don’t think that shutting our eyes and plugging our ears is going to make it go away. Nor should it. They have an important point to make.

Posted by AmericanLady | Report as abusive

“There are very real ways to work to change the system, legislatively. And most of us who care deeply about the country, the workforce, and the economy are hard at works where it matters — with our Senators and Representatives and lobbying efforts.”


Our current dysfunctional Legislative Branch and Impotent Executive Branch, both which seem to be captured by crony capitalist lobbying interests, are some of the major reasons why people are taking it to the streets.

Lack of credible representation is precisely what leads to this sort of thing.

Not that there aren’t a lot of credible and competent people within the system trying to hammer out something workable. But a minority of extremists within government have managed to deadlock and corrupt the process.

Posted by bryanX | Report as abusive

I’m sitting in my comfortable house in bristol in the uk, this is all news to me, I have spent the last two hours researching and discovering for myself what is happenning in america. It’s amazing spectacular and I hope not too late, in terms of media coverage I wouldn’t have known it was happening, but I gave up on mainstream media after 911 anyway.

The one thing I want to say is, for me all this can be summed up in one phrase ‘what democracy?’ we wage war to bring it to the middle east, we keep people poor by sanctions for those who don’t sign up for it. But in it’s heart land the burning flame of of its inception, it counts for nothing.. Democracy has become a sham a shadow play to manipulate us.

I call on all who read this to wake up and start taking action because your vote means nothing, your voice and your heart are the only things which will cause change. All our poloticians do is what they are told to do, our control has long gone…. wake up speak out and you will not walk alone.I and many others will march with you.

Posted by 3d60 | Report as abusive

The Wall Street protest has Americans struggling with just who these people are and what they represent. So, naturally, they are also questioning their true motivations. Many view OWS as a “spontaneous” extension of President Obama’s own war on the rich which seemed to have conveniently reached a crescendo just as the first protesters appeared on Wall Street.

Others suspect, along with many of the conservative pundits, that it is a George Soros-backed conspiracy to stoke the anti-capitalist flames. And, there are others who see it as a ploy by the unions to build up their stature and their ranks.

Due to the lack of a coherent message or rational demand out of this largely disjointed association of activists, Americans are having trouble accepting it as a pure, grass-roots movement with legitimate intentions. The circus like, and borderline violent atmosphere, as opposed to the serious Tea Party demeanor, raises skepticism that the Wall Street protest is nothing more than a ploy to distract the American public from the abyssmal job performance of the current administration.

Having spread from Wall Street to main street it has garnered much more media attention, but the focus is as much on its unruliness and non-conformity as it is on any cogent message it is trying to convey.

Whether it is real or not, opportunistic or sincere, it is bringing to a much brighter light what most Americans are already sensing – that the country is sinking further into economic distress and the last drops of optimism have evaporated into a dark cloud of uncertainty. That a small number of people, although misguided and largely misinformed, would stand up to fight for jobs and their share of influence over policy making decisions, doesn’t seem so extreme or radical to the average American.

No one would argue with the need for more urgent action to turn the economy around. And, you won’t find too many people siding with the very institutions that, through their incessant hunger for profits, were willing accomplices to one of the worst financial calamities in our history.

In fact, at their core, the grievances that form the basis of many of its demands are shared by people on both sides of the aisle. Even Tea Partiers find little to fault with OWS’s assault on crony capitalism and lack of accountability of Wall Street’s complicity in the financial crisis. They just believe that their anger is misdirected.

The Tea Party see’s the government and its designs on the people’s liberties as the root of all evil, while the OWS crowd sees Wall Street, the banks and corporate America as the evil doers. While there is enough blame to spread around, the reality is that, by targeting the private sector, the protesters are biting the hands that feed them – literally.

True, many of the protesters are recipients of government handouts – many are unemployed and a good number are receiving some sort of welfare. But, the government isn’t going to give them a job, and it certainly doesn’t produce the many products and technological innovations that they are now enjoying even as they mount their assault on capitalism. By disrupting the thousands of local businesses, the wall street protest are hurting the economies of dozens of cities which will only exacerbate the financial distress of their communities.

If instead, they joined hands and marched, peacefully, on Washington and targeted the politicians who perpetuate the crony capitalism they abhor, and who have broken their promises to “fix” Wall Street and get the lobbyists out of the White House, and who, through their actions or in-actions, are suppressing the ability of businesses to generate more jobs, they will have a much greater impact.

Instead of coalescing around an unpopular campaign (1% versus the 99%) to pit the rich against the middle class, it is only going to stoke the fires of the President and other leftist politicians who have been trying the same strategy without success. The people don’t want to hear it.

The problem for OWS, is that, with no clear leadership and no clearly articulated message, they have been, and are still in the process of being hijacked by every activist group or whacko cause out there, and now the unions, the Marxists and the politicians are co-opting the movement for their own purposes.

While all of the added support and encouragement from these groups has emboldened the movement and made its voice louder, all it has really done is made it more shrill and even more disjointed. Add to the soup, the infiltration by every homeless person, drug addict, ageless hippie and teen in search of a rave party, and you have a spectacle that few Americans can relate too, which is unfortunate.

Everyone from the Fed Chairman to Warren Buffet, from Hollywood liberals to conservative talk show hosts, from Tea Partiers to the President, agree that the anger is real, the outrage is justified, and that Wall Street and the politicians need to be held to account for the malaise in which we find ourselves. But the assault on the private sector and capitalism is misguided.

Capitalism has done nothing but create prosperity for all who actively participate in it. It’s the Washington politicians who, throughout history, have tried to control capitalism that have inflicted the damage. That’s where OWS needs to go right now. 

Posted by afreshup | Report as abusive