Taking Back Our Humanity
The Occupy Wall Street Movement began as a grass-roots effort to raise public awareness. Mortgage foreclosures brought on by predatory lending practices made common across the country were responsible for the stark increase in homelessness. Due to the lenders’ taking of people’s homes and the subsequent loss of employment that caused the loss of housing for thousands and thousands of Americans, many felt allied with the protests. Others would support the causes publicly without actually participating and yet thousands of others would later participate where they were only supportive at the outset. Why did the participation in the “Occupy Wall Street Movement” grow and sprawl across the country as it did? What were the reasons behind the popularity of the message?
June 9th, 2010 marks the beginning of the Occupy Wall Street website. A Canadian anti-consumerist group Ad-busters, was successful in fielding the very first protest in Manhattan with about 1,000 people. There was a feeling of solidarity and people had been posting their photos to the internet and various social media sites with various slogans. The most popular quickly becoming “We Are The 99%.”
From the very outset of the movement struggles for space to be occupied was at the fore-front. Police arrested masked protesters under an 1845 law and other arrests of dubious nature and other tactics and weapons such as pepper spray would be increasingly employed. September 26th, Michael Moore addressed the crowd in Zucotti Park on the following day there was Dr. Cornell West and Susan Sarandon. These “celebrities” brought credibility and recognition to the movement.
Protests in other cities such as London had occurred simultaneously and as a movement Occupy Wall Street was most definitely global. The slogan “We are the 99%” crosses borders and governments as it encompasses the idea that there is something basically flawed with our system of capitalism. Capitalism and its trappings are implied broken to a pitiful extreme merely by the 4 words…”We are The 99%” Most people globally feel powerless and dis-enfranchised by a greedy and disaffected 1%, the bourgeoisie. This is the reason for the instant and continued framing of Occupy Wall Street as the 99%.
“It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.” (Jaffe, 2013).
This feeling of powerless to change one’s own lot in life, the feeling of powerlessness to change the social standard to which one is born is prevalent in August in Great Britain and was a leading factor to the Occupy Movement taking up space in Zucotti Park. Sparked by the police shooting and killing a young 29 year old man, rioted. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHkGM6xBgPk
There is no surprise that in the era of social media and an instantaneous 24 hour news cycle we get filtered news from our main stays of media tilted to a particular bias and rampant with omission. Likewise the rise of Facebook, Twitter and My Space allowed the instantaneous solidarity between protesters globally the mere sight of the Britain’s protesting and rioting added to the huge increases in joblessness and mortgage foreclosures was a fertile foundation for what would become a national movement. “These Neighborhoods go beyond social networks to encompass information and resource sharing, 35% of Barry Wellman’s tweets contain a hyperlink. Within the field of education, researchers have found that the use of Twitter supports a number of educational outcomes, including increased engagement with the material, more peer interaction related to the course content , and expanded discourse beyond the classroom walls.” (American Behavioural Scientist) What we were seeing was a collective identity being formed and it didn’t take people hours or even a day to share the material, peer interaction was instantaneously immediate. It has been seen as one of the symbols of capitalist oppression therefore the Bronze Bull Statue on Wall Street was attacked.
“Elsewhere it is outlined political “process model” (McAdam1982) of social movements that stresses the importance of two structural factors in the emergence of widespread insurgency. The first is the level of indigenous organization within the aggrieved population; the second the alignment of groups within the larger political environment.”(McAdam, 1983). We see similar circumstances leading up to the Occupy Wall Street protests. There was a factor of the aggrieved, whether they were truly the 99% or the 86.4% or the 71% that were in agreement with the notion of injustice between the classes and dis-enfranchisement among the greater population at the hands the greedy Wall Street Bankers and the bourgeoisie was no matter after the London protests and the second set of political process lending itself to a burgeoning movement, the movement occurred and grew. Just as the civil rights movement had structural institutional leadership with the black churches and the NAACP and other statewide groups such as dis-enfranchised black democrats in Mississippi, the Occupy Wall Street Movement had the labor unions and elites such as Dr. Cornell West whom appeared and commentated. It was a “leaderless” movement where collective empowerment and unified cause was apparent from the very beginnings. Occupy’s importance was that it taught people that they could collectively empower to protest and might have been a foundation of critical organization for a larger protest yet to come. Mr. Hedges agrees with his assessment at the two year anniversary of the taking of Zucotti Park. I have long felt that circumstances have gotten particularly worse instead of better economically across the nation. We see an increased wealth gap and a persistent lack of jobs that offer living wages and mobility and savings of any sort. Opportunity seams to be absent in the land of milk and honey. In the land built on freedom and opportunity there is a stark feeling among a growing number of people that there really isn’t any for them. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vlnxh_OV_hY
Violence was deemed to be effective as a tool by both law enforcement and protesters in one article “The Success of the Unruly.” Violence has many affects it instills fear even when no violence occurs to a particular protester or majority of protesters but rather only a few and in this day of instant comment feedback and opinion violence can lead to a rise in protest participation as it was deemed to have done in Occupy the crowds grew after protesters at UC Davis were gassed and the groups from Albuquerque to Zucotti seemed to grow in participation and support from the supporting unions and institutions. I would estimate the initial public response to police violence was the growing of the protest as the numbers grew on the west coast to enable the tactic of taking over and shutting down large International ports. Initially police violence had the ground swell effect in my opinion.
Later though as the days passed, violence and taking back of occupied places as well as arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge and at occupy groups nationwide did have the noted effect of officially closing the political window of opportunity and ending the uprising movement at that time.
… “In a closed and oppressive political system that offers no nonviolent means for accomplishing change, the morality of violence is not as clear. But when it is believed that effective nonviolent alternatives exist, almost everybody would consider these morally preferable. In the pluralist image of American society the political system is relatively open, offering access at many points for effective nonviolent protest and efforts at change. With this premise, the use of violence by groups engaged in efforts at social change seems particularly reprehensible. The above reasoning should apply not only to violence as a means of influence but also as a means of social control as well. The use of violence and other extra-legal methods for dealing with protesters is also morally reprehensible” (Gamson,1973). Paraphrased “It would be comforting to find that moral and strategic imperatives coincide, but the evidence discussed suggests that they do not.”
After careful consideration with the timeline of events and the knowledge of hindsight and these theories, I do believe that the violence by police upon protesters over a period of time led to the decline in numbers of people participating in various Occupy Movement protests. Effectively these tactics and a feeling of despair in the loss of public spaces ended the movement. Today people are just ill-affected and every bit as dis-enfranchised and the feeling of disparity has infected people now to a degree that one is led to feel larger protests will be forthcoming for what is more moving and socially and politically changing than three hundred thousand protesters nationwide ? Three million protesters across the country would be.
Who knows what the numbers in an Occupy II protest could be, three million to thirty million could potentially show up. Only someone’s estimation at this point however there does seem to be momentum for another round of protestations. Not much social change from the level of human dignity as defined by Danny Glover in the beginning of this presentation has occurred. Yes there has been a “settlement” from the offending Wall Street Firms. What amounted to a small cost of doing business to the banks. Mr. Glover asks “What does it mean to be a human being in the 21st century?” The lack of answer to his question leads me to believe more protests will come.