There is a protest on Wall Street, if you haven’t heard about it yet. Despite protestors being ridiculed from the beginning and early blacklisting from the media, the protest has officially gone global today as it spread to cities all over the world. The movement known as “Occupy Wall Street” has become Occupy Paris, Occupy Berlin, Occupy London, Occupy Rome, Occupy DC, Occupy Seattle, Occupy Chicago, Occupy Houston, Occupy St. Louis, and even Occupy Wichita.
You can almost hear the songs from Les Mis play as you watch the protestors march with the rich verses poor slogans painted on picket signs. The corporations are blamed, the banks are blamed, and the government is blamed. The rich and wealthy are being shamed as a selfish and un-taxed minority, while the protestors declare the rest of us to be part of the “99%” who suffer in their wake. It’s this narrative generic enough to cover most everyone, and a plea applicable to most of us, that gives the movement its energy and widespread support. While a demand for change (without acknowledging Obama’s, “Yes, We Can”) as ideological as any play on Broadway, the attack on a symbol (the charging bull of Wall Street) may very well undermine any specific and direct reforms. The romantic pains of our personal experience combined with the energy of the people give the movement life, but also contradict the good things about being a democracy. Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic said this:
For Occupy Wall Street, the problem is that a counter-narrative every bit as familiar also appeals to many Americans. These are people who believe that wealth in this country accrues to talented people who work hard and benefit their fellow man through the market; that envying the successful is a kind of poison corrosive to any society; that to attack Wall Street is the same as declaring that you’ve got no confidence in capitalism itself; and that for all its flaws, our free market economic system has generated tremendous wealth and prosperity for rich and poor alike.
He goes on to say, “…to see that we’re not confronted by the impossible question, “Is Wall Street basically good or malign;” what we must actually answer are questions like, “What sort of regulations, if any, should govern the market for derivatives of mortgaged backed securities,” and “Should the federal government subsidize home ownership,” and “What should the reserve requirements be for lending institutions.”
The point is, regardless of the side of Wall Street on which you stand, the romantic ideology (flowing with Broadway songs in the background) may motivate us and unite us, but change will not come until we actually do something.
The protestors think they are doing something, and they are waiting for “Wall Street” to do something as a result.
But that’s part of the problem: who is Wall Street? Which company is Wall Street? Which government regulation is Wall Street? This is the weakness of the movement, that in attacking a symbol there is no actual enemy for them to battle.
But that’s part of the protest, too.
Because it’s not really about Wall Street.
Wall Street is the symbolic scapegoat wrestled to the ground and then let loose in the wilderness, so that the people themselves can actually find mercy.
The people want the symbol defined, and they want a say in how it rules their lives. TIME magazine says that 54 percent of Americans support the protestors, and the NBC/Wall Street Journal says that 37 percent of the people support them. Either way, and besides the obvious biases of each poll, that’s enough to get some attention, and enough attention to ask some serious questions and get real answers.
Note also that this means twice as many people support the Occupy Wall Street movement than support the Tea Party movement. That’s part of why this is all big news. The consensus online seems to be that this has happened because the Tea Party stood against specific leaders (like Obama), which forced people to take sides (Republican or Democrat or Tea Party), and talked big but didn’t do anything; the Occupy Wall Street movement stood against symbolic monsters (“big bankers”), which united people, and then talked “specific” (money) and accomplished something – well, sort of accomplished something.
Execution (accomplishing the task, not killing people) is always key in leadership, and it may be that the power behind Occupy Wall Street still lays ahead – whether real change is accomplished or not. They have accomplished getting people’s attention, far more than the Tea Party, even having the entire world’s attention, but now what?
That’s going to be hard to figure out for a collective movement uniting people to point out the problems of “power and greed… the eroding of the middle class… (but with) no agenda uniting the people showing up and expressing their anger at finance”. Nathan Schneider explains on behalf of the protestors, that “government institutions are already so shot through with corporate money that making specific demands would be pointless until the movement grew stronger politically.”
And that’s exactly what’s happening.
The movement is growing stronger politically, even now with its own official “General Assembly”, and by calling their protest an “occupation”.
Those are political words.
The General Assembly is a “horizontal,” allegedly with no specific leader, assembly that makes decisions only through consensus. They have their own website already, and the rough draft of the “minutes” of each meeting is available there, as well as notices and updates about future meetings. They are organizing, developing their own political lingo, and everything is about consensus. They say that there is live streaming of their “occupation” in every single country on the planet, except North Korea – but they want to help them, too. You can also follow the General Assembly meetings live on Twitter, using the #GeneralAssembly hashtag and introduce yourself using the #NewOccupier hashtag.
There are three major theories about what Occupy Wall Street wants to accomplish:
1.) It’s just drama and ultimately meaningless;
2.) It’s genuine attention being brought to the legitimate problem of global finance reform; and/or
3.) It’s a test to see if Arab tactics will work in the US.
The New York Times says that after the Arab Spring, people here want the American Autumn. This is fascinating historically and spiritually, that our people and country are demanding change based on the pattern of what unfolded in the Middle East. Even politically it is intriguing, as hard-lined-big-names are uniting cross party lines (“evangelicals and libertarians for the Tea Party… and socialists and anarchists for the Occupy-wherever protests”, my friend said in an email today), with both republicans and democrats protesting side-by-side for a common goal – even though no one knows yet what that goal is.
There is a whole spectrum of those taking a spiritual perspective on things. Some say that if we would have followed the advice of the prophet and apostles forty, thirty, twenty, or even ten years ago, we would not be in this mess now. If we would have resisted the credit binge of the 80’s, we would not be in financial bondage now. If we would have lived within our means, built up our savings, and shared with our neighbors, we would not be slaves to “Wall Street” today – and our children would not have been born into bondage, already trapped before they even get to try. This, they say, is how we surrendered our agency. Like the bad peace treaties in Mosiah 9, we made friends with the enemy instead of fighting it. This is how we got trapped, and these are our consequences.
In the extreme perspectives, others say there are ancient prophesies, some say, about the youth having visions and creating change. And this, they say, is a part of that. This, they say, is only just getting started, and we are going to watch it unfold. This is just the beginning, they say, of what must be reorganized in preparation for what is to come. On the opposite end, others say this is a part of those prophecies, but in the worst way, part of a globally united enemy forming politically and financially. They say that the establishment of this new global movement will not fix our governments, but destroy them in such a way that leads to desolation for all of us. They say it is the beginning of the end.
Secular perspectives have a similar spectrum of perspective. Some say it is simply a brilliant example of the voice of the people demanding that democracy truly be protected and maintained. Alan Grayson (democrat) said:
They’re complaining that Wall Street wrecked the economy three years ago and nobody’s held responsible for that. Not a single person’s been indicted or convicted for destroying twenty percent of our national net worth accumulated over two centuries. They’re upset about the fact that Wall Street has iron control over the economic policies of this country, and that one party is a wholly owned subsidiary of Wall Street, and the other party caters to them as well… (They) think that we should not have 24 million people in this country who can’t find a full time job, that we should not have 50 million people in this country who can’t see a doctor when they’re sick, that we shouldn’t have 47 million people in this country who need government help to feed themselves, and we shouldn’t have 15 million families who owe more on their mortgage than the value of their home.”
At the other end of the spectrum, others say the timeline of the Occupy Wall Street movement is too much coincidence at too many points, and that it is clearly organized after the same pattern as those who are organizing violent protests at the global economic summits. After the Arab Spring, they have learned to camouflage themselves behind propaganda geared to sympathizers. They motivate us not only to support them, but also to join them, by appealing to our emotion through pity and mutual experiences taken out of context, and by giving us an illusion of possible relief from responsibilities and burdens by blaming someone else for them. They say this will be the movement’s power, a united and motivated people ready to support any destruction because they already submitted themselves to it before they understood what was happening. The people have sold themselves out by leaving themselves vulnerable and weak (financially) and then taking the bait of propaganda, being bought out for a cause they did not actually investigate.
Others (James Joyner, specifically) say that while both the Arab Spring and the American Autumn involve “frustrated youth loosely organized by social media”, that it is insulting to compare these protests to what happened in Egypt and the Middle East.
Does oppression from financial bondage “count” as severe enough to be compared to what has been happening in the Middle East? Is it as dangerous? Is it the same evil, in a more disguised form? Are lives just as enslaved or destroyed by the financial situation here as the militant situation there?
The protestors think so. Well, some of them. Others would not relate it at all to the Middle East, except in timing, and are just ethnocentric-ly focused on the financial status of Americans (or their own lives, and their own children, some say). But no country is financially independent in the global culture of today, and this movement as a whole has a very global focus, with a very global response.
It’s really big.
It’s big enough you should understand what’s going on, no matter what happens next, whether it fizzles out or changes the world (for good or bad).
It’s big enough you should be paying attention, not to the drama but to the pattern of what is happening, and to those “behind the curtain” of the movement.
So here’s a timeline, in case you missed it, starting after the Arab Spring with the revolution in Egypt, explaining how Occupy Wall Street unfolded (minus all the conspiracy theories about who and what is behind it – that would be another blog all together):
2 February 2011: A Canadian anti-consumerist magazine, Adbusters, runs an editorial by Kono Matsu (another article by him here). He calls for a protest on Wall Street to happen just like the protests in the Middle East (the events in Egypt started in January).
9 June 2011: Adbusters registers the domain name OccupyWallStreet.org (which now redirects to http://www.adbusters.org/campaigns/occupywallstreet). As of today (15 October), the site has been live-streaming the protests for 29 days. The site includes the twitter feed of the #occupywallstreet hashtag, now shortened to #OWS, as well as videos telling their stories of individuals against the corporate collective.
13 July 2011: Kalle Lasn of the magazine Adbusters calls for a protest in a month’s time, scheduled for 17 September. It’s announced online (CLICK HERE to see the original post) with simple directions: “flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades, and occupy Wall Street”. The notice appeals to those who want to re-create Tahir, asking followers if they are “ready for a Tahir Moment” and calling Wall Street “the financial Gommorah of America”. Tahir Square was the 1952 site of the revolution that changed Egypt from a constitutional monarchy to a republic, and the recent 2011 site revolution as famous for the community clean-up following the protest as for the results of the protest.
23 August 2011 (some sites say a week later, 30 August): “Hacktivist” collective Anonymous released a video supporting the protest and encouraging its members to participate. Hacktivism is a movement to use computers and online tools as a means of protest and to promote political agendas; it’s a high-tech form of civil disobedience and/or activism. The Anonymous collective is a group, online and organized since at least 2008, already with a history of being part of the hacktivism movement that wants to anonymously initiate and promote active civil disobedience (think WikiLeaks, according to CNN).
9 September 2011: The “We are the 99 Percent” Tumblr micro-blog started when supporters of Occupy Wall Street started posting their stories. The “99 Percent” became the cry of the Occupy Wall Street Movement as protestors declared that 99% of the people get nothing, while “the other 1% is getting everything”. The pictures are of people holding papers over their faces, with their story written on the paper. It’s like mormon.org, only instead of “I’m a Mormon”, they say “We are the 99%”.
17 September 2011: This is the scheduled day of the protest. Initially asking for 20,000 people, and then asking for 90,000 people, then asking for a “million man march” (like Matsu’s editorial back in February), only about a thousand people show up. They meet at the charging bull, and they walk up and down Wall Street. Following their apparent failure of a march, they set up tents in Zuccotti Park (also called Liberty Plaza).
19 September 2011: Two days into the protest, the first Hollywood celebrity shows up, and it’s Roseanne Barr.
20 September 2011: The first protest arrests are made by police citing a law from 1845 (amended in 1965) that bans “masked gatherings”. Within a few days, others writing on the streets and sidewalks with chalk are arrested under anti-graffiti laws. Only a few are arrested for disorderly conduct, and the protests remain peaceful.
24 September 2011: A week and a day into the protest, the numbers are growing, and 80 people are arrested for marching uptown without a permit. Videos of this and other arrests, including a group of women being pepper-sprayed, goes viral online. This brings the first major-media coverage, and the protest’s first offspring with an Occupy Wall Street protest in Chicago. The Chicago protest is independent of the New York protests, and they are the first ones to propose actual demands as part of their protest.
26 September 2011: Noam Chomsky sends his support in an open letter to Occupy Wall Street, and Michael Moore speaks to the crowd at Liberty Plaza.
(CLICK HERE for some of the text.)
27 September 2011: Susan Sarandon (actress) and Cornel West (Princeton) join the protests.
28 September 2011: The first union (Transport Workers Union Local 100) joins Occupy Wall Street by member vote.
30 September 2011: Protestors protest police response to protest in NYC, marching outside NYPD headquarters.
1 October 2011: Occupy Wall Street marches across Brooklyn Bridge. Police say they warned protesters to stay on the walkway level; protestors say police “lured and trapped” them on the road level. More than 700 people are arrested, and this pushes the story to the front page of newspapers and top of the hour coverage on TV news broadcasts. This inspires protests in DC and LA.
3 October 2011: Now known as “the Zombie March“, protestors dress as “corporate zombies” in suits and fake money flying out of their hands. Protests start in Boston, Memphis, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Wichita, Portland, and Hawaii.
5 October 2011: More than 40 organizations, everything from labor and progressive and union and civic, join Occupy Wall Street for a march through the financial district. Media reports 15,000 people marched, while OWS reports 20,000 people marched. The march is peaceful, but after night fall the crowd breaks through police barriers causing officers to respond with batons and pepper spray. This is also the infamous day that Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain says, “Don’t blame Wall street, don’t blame big banks, if you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself!”
This is also the tenth anniversary of the start of the war in Afghanistan, fueling both sides of the protest with emotion and energy and symbolism.
6 October 2011: More than four thousand protestors join the marches in Portland. Other protests begin in Houston, Austin, Tampa, and San Francisco. More than a month since it began (35 days), and giving only a minor comment during an unrelated press conference, President Obama gives his first response to the protest, saying:
“I think it expresses the frustrations the American people feel, that we had the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, huge collateral damage all throughout the country… and yet you’re still seeing some of the same folks who acted irresponsibly trying to fight efforts to crack down on the abusive practices that got us into this in the first place”.
7 October 2011: The mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, addresses the protest for the first time in a radio interview, stating that the protests are “not good for tourism”. Occupy Hartford marches and sets up camp for the weekend.
8 October 2011: Protestors from Occupy Wall Street join protestors from the offshoot Occupy DC to protest U.S. drone strikes abroad. They protest outside the Smithsonian in DC, and it closes after the crowd shows up allegedly because protestors roughed up the guards. The same day, the crowd in NYC officially outgrows Liberty Plaza, and the protestors spread to Washington Square Park. The first arrests are made in the protests in Seattle and California.
9 October 2011: The offshoot in Cincinnati receives 28 citations for protestors illegally staying in the park after dark.
10 October 2011: The mayor of New York City not-quite-recants, telling protestors they are welcome to stay in New York as long as they are obedient to the law.
11 October 2011: Known as the “Millionaries March”, protestors march through the Upper East Side. They pass the homes of rich political and corporate leaders, including JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon and Rupert Murdoch and Tea Party financier David Koch.
13 October 2011: The drama escalates and powers clash! The Mayor of New York City asks protestors to clear out of the park so that the park can be cleaned. The protestors respond by asking for cleaning supplies and say they will clean it themselves (also like Tahir Square). NYPD responds by saying protestors can no longer keep sleeping equipment in the park. Then Reuters announces they have evidence to prove that George Soros, known to support progressive-liberal causes (helped fund black students to attend college during apartheid in South Africa and “funding dissident movements behind the iron curtain”), is financially linked to Adbusters.
14 October 2011: Reuters publishes another article refuting their statement the day before, stating that the links to George Soros are indirect and no evidence of direct links has been found.
15 October 2011: Today is day 29 of the protest. There is an all-day anxiety building between the crowd and police, resulting in a four-hour standoff in the evening. Police back down and the crowd keep their promise of remaining peaceful. The protestors march on Times Square. The protest is officially declared “global” as the protests are full swing in Paris, London, Berlin, and Rome. The General Assembly goes live with projection and live video feed and streaming via Twitter. The 1% begins to stand with the 99%, in amazing photos and micro-essays like the 99% are sharing.