Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Occupy Wall Street III: The Diversity of the 99%

Three weeks after the Occupy Wall Street movement began, I went to Zuccotti Park. The park, just minutes away from Wall Street, has been the epicenter of the occupation. The 33,000 square foot space was packed. In one corner of the park, musicians played drums and guitars while a group of occupiers danced. I walked to the other end of the park where a group watched a video presentation. Throughout the park the occupiers chatted, debated, and displayed signs relating to a wide variety of social injustices. Some were engaged in serious conversations, others were playful. I saw none of the anger that today’s New York Times described as the common thread among the occupiers. I saw animated, inspired, empowered, energized and exhilarated demonstrators. I visited the park around 9 pm on a Sunday evening, so the occupiers I saw were the ones who were spending their nights in the park. Some were unwashed, disheveled and slightly smelly. Others looked as though they had joined the occupation that day. Almost all of them were young.

I was in Long Island, New York this past weekend. On Saturday, I saw a group of about fifty protesters in Sag Harbor, a small peaceful, idyllic town in the Hamptons. This was a more affluent-looking group. There were young people there, but most of the demonstrators were in their forties, fifties and sixties. They were well groomed, slightly stoic, and seemed like the kind of people who would never spend the night in a public park. There was no music or dancing, but this too was part of the Occupy Movement.

The contrast between the mostly young protesters in lower Manhattan and their older counterparts in the Hamptons illustrates the potential power of the Occupy Movement. The two groups have few things in common. But, both groups have joined a movement protesting big business’ usurpation of economic and political power. It is not likely that the two groups would agree on many social or political issues, but big business has adversely impacted the lives of the members of both groups. This is the focus of the Occupy Movement. This is what we all have in common. The diversity and unity within the 99% is the source of its potential power. As dre cumming’s October 17th blog demonstrates, the occupiers have in fact articulated an agenda that focuses on economic injustice. It is true that there are people in the crowds that have gathered around the world in the past four weeks who lack focus or direction. Steve Ramirez describes this problem in his October 16th post. Some denounce capitalism and call for communism. Others protest racial injustice in the criminal justice system. But these extreme protesters do not speak for the Occupy Movement. I suppose that my biggest criticism of the Movement is that they may be too welcoming. They don’t want to deny a voice to anyone who feels disenchanted. They want everyone to speak. And this makes the Movement look as though it lacks direction.

The iconic sculpture of the Charging Bull of Wall Street sits a few blocks south of Zuccotti Park. After leaving the park on October 9th, we drove past the sculpture. I believe New York City officials were concerned that demonstrators would deface the sculpture so they had it enclosed in a fence and guarded by a police officer. I stopped and took the picture you see in this post of the barricaded bull. I found it disconcerting that the city decided to spend money to protect a sculpture from peaceful demonstrators. And, the symbolism is striking. Our economic future is corralled and stalled– just like The Wall Street Bull.

11 comments:

  1. Incredible and poignant observations. Clearly articulates the message of the movement.

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  2. I love the symbolism of the stalled economy, corralled, just like the Wall Street bull.

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  3. I agree that the primary problem facing the occupy wall street protestors is the public perception problem that they lack direction and any unified voice. However, I cannot agree with the statement that "They want everyone to speak." The attempt of Congressman John Lewis to speak at an Occupy Atlanta protest demonstrates the severe public relations problem the movement faces. Though many Americans would likely agree with the anger over the bailouts, the fringe elements will likely be the downfall of this movement unless they can focus their energies into something that the majority of Americans can support. If they fail to do this, it will only look like a group of angry, smelly people to the rest of the country. Thanks for the post and the picture.

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  4. I've heard it suggested by Financial Journalist Max Keiser that Jamie Diamond (spell check?), the CEO of JP Morgan should be the symbolic target of ouster. He outlines routinely the financial terrorist acts that JP Morgan has committed.

    - Steve Newbold

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  5. Cheryl,

    Once again a great post! I love how you show the diversity of the Occupy Wall Street Movement from Wall Street to Sag Harbor in the Hamptons, of all places. Your picture of the barricaded Wall Street bull is powerful and symbolic. Thank you!

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  6. Occupy Wall Street Live Video OccupyChange.blogspot.com

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  7. The Occupy Movement is still in its realatively early stages of community building. At this stage, some chaos is to be expected. In due time, there will be a merging that will allow both the participants and on-lookers to see that whether the protest is in the Hamptons, Wall Street, or Rome -- at the core is an economic injustice that deserves focused and deliberate attention and must be addressed by those who set policies, sooner than later. Love the symbolism of the barricaded bull!

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  8. I think it's too early to tell what force the Occupy movement will actually have, but the diversity suggests that it's a group sufficient enough to become the anti-tea party of sorts.

    I think the more interesting question is how this could influence political discourse. Broad diversity usually limits the platform of a particular group (a broader group will generally agree on a fewer issues). Yet, a lack of centralization clearly diminishes the clarity of OWS. Currently, it's as if "group-think" is driving a fact-finding mission for a platform.

    Since there's a lack of corporate financing (excluding Ben & Jerry's for a second) it seems political power is based on shear numbers that ideally would sway an election. The problem is that once politicians get elected, monetary interests usually dictates policy. So, best case scenario: OWS gets genuine politicians elected that will do some real good. Worse case scenario: OWS gets politicians elected that pledge to do real good, end up getting swayed by lobbyists, and rely on high incumbency rates to stay in office while continuing to perpetuate a cycle of corporate oligarchy. Probably the latter.

    I think the answer is public financing of elections and federal law dictating some directors should be liable to employees. Just admit we live in a nation of hybrid capitalism-solicialism, and balance out the errs of capitalism with a bit more socialism.

    In the meantime, great article!

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  9. I noticed the same thing about the bull. I find it interesting that 3 or more police officers are protecting it at any given time of day.

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  10. Caroline (Memphis law)November 20, 2011 at 7:28 PM

    I also agree that there seems to be disconnect with the occupy protesters. It seems to me that they are accepting anyone wnating to protest anything now. How can we know the true message of the occupy protesters when they are all wanting different things and speaking of injustice in different systems in our country? There are several different messages and wants from the protesters in each group in each city and unless there beings to be more uniformity with the group of protesters I don't see anything getting accomplished efficiently until there is a clear picture of uniformity in the groups.

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  11. I really appreciate this article; It is refreshing to see the diversity of the OWS protesters. I agree with the post that there may be a problem with being to welcoming and letting everyone's voices be heard. This is such a fine line that the OWS movement must walk. When someone people have something to say - especially if those things are contrasting - it is easy for the mission to get lost. If OWS really wants to succeed the must figure out a better way to define their direction while still respecting the diversity that the 99% has.

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