The Wall Street Protests: Grabbing the bull by the horns?

By Ryan T. Elliott
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America/Oceania

New York City, United States – The group “Occupy Wall Street” is credited with organizing the protests that are currently under way in lower Manhattan. The protests began on September 17, when hundreds of protestors gathered at Bowling Green Park in Manhattan, home of the famous charging bull located in New York’s Financial District. Protestors gathered at this symbolic location and prepared for days, or possibly even months, of protest. According to statements on Occupy Wall Street’s website, the movement was generated by the pervasive attitude of “profit over and above all else,” which, they believe, has negatively affected American society and culture. The website also stated that the other “thing [protestors] have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%.”

Protesters gather at the charging bull in New Yorks Financial District (Photo Courtesy of  Spencer Platt/Getty Images North America)
Protesters gather at the charging bull in New York's Financial District (Photo Courtesy of Spencer Platt/Getty Images North America)

The protest, evolved from a network of individuals and groups who were purportedly inspired by the demonstrations in Egypt. On its website, Occupy Wall Street describes itself as a “leaderless resistance movement” drawn from people of all backgrounds and political beliefs. Reports on the protesters in lower Manhattan seem to verify this statement, describing the demonstrators as a group of people who are expressing concerns ranging from: greed, poverty, war, and even the death penalty.

While the number of protestors varies at any one point, as the protesters are constantly drifting in and out of the park, there are approximately a hundred people who are sleeping in the park every night. Meanwhile there are other protestors who live in and around the area and attend the demonstrations for a few hours a day or week. Many commentators on the protest have stated that the protest is reached a metaphorical “crossroads” where it must either define its demands or face the possibility of becoming irrelevant.

While the protestors have yet to tackle this issue, they have, at the very least, developed an internal organization to deal with day-to-day realities. For instance, the group has a created committees that are responsible for: finance, food and comfort. There are also daily meetings where protestors make important announcements. These announcements are made all the more difficult due to a ban on bullhorns. So protestors have harnessed the power of the crowd to simultaneously repeat a single message, which circumvents the need for bullhorns, and allows nearly everyone within earshot to hear the group’s messages.

Although this demonstration was organized through social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook, that is, arguably, where the comparisons to the “Arab Spring” end, for two reasons. The first is that the Wall Street demonstrations have only assembled a few hundred protestors, which is a far cry from those numbers seen in Athens or Cairo. Second, there is the practical concern that a group who fails to clearly define its objectives will have any success in achieving them. This skepticism is widely shared,  a blog featured on the Economist’s website had this to say about the demonstration:

“[T]he protest looked less like Tahrir Square than the remnants of an urban Burning Man. The ranks of the demonstrators had dwindled to what looked like 100, yet twice as many people milled around the 3,000-square-foot plaza to observe the spectacle of disillusioned 20-somethings and a smattering of baby-boomers acting out a haphazard blend of activism, exhibitionism, idealism and performance art.”

Most of the media coverage that originally dismissed the demonstration, however, has taken a renewed interest. This may be because the protest has gained attention from celebrities and institutions. But the more likely explanation is the disturbing images captured after the arrests of eighty or so people last weekend. These arrests were largely for disorderly conduct and disrupting traffic, but amateur video footage showed protesters being handled and dealt with in an unusually aggressive manner by the NYPD. In fact, one video account has already led to a positive identification of NYPD Deputy Inspector, Anthony Bologna, who can be seen discharging pepper spray on a number of peaceful protesters and innocent bystanders. Many have said that these policing tactics may very well constitute excessive force.

These jarring images, contrasted by “Wall Streeters” who show every sign of mocking the protesters, has created a powerful backdrop for news outlets to address the varied concerns of the protestors. And these concerns are, indeed, varied. It is reported that the protesters have voiced concerns ranging from the environment to U.S. military presence in foreign countries, and even the recent execution of Troy Davis. But economic concerns seem to loom large. The most visible signs of outrage seem to be over the Wall Street banks and bankers who weren’t held accountable after the financial meltdown. Accordingly, James Downie of the Washington Post, posited the following theory on what may be a unifying factor for young protestors:

“[D]emonstrators are protesting not only for a cause but for themselves… Three years after Wall Street crashed the economy, youth unemployment stands at 18 percent, double the national rate, while youth employment is at its lowest level since the end of World War II. And because the graduate who spends a year unemployed will still make 23 percent less than a similar classmate a decade later, the young unemployed will feel these effects for years. The average college graduate now carries over $27,000 in debt at graduation; not surprisingly, then, more than 85 percent of the Class of 2011 moved back into their parents’ home, the highest number on record.”

Whatever the cause, one thing is clear: the protest is moving beyond the parks and streets of lower Manhattan where it began on September 17, 2011. There are now several other events either under way or planned, which indicates that this protest may remain relevant despite criticism leveled against it. In fact, there are currently demonstrations in cities around the United States, including Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston, and another demonstration is scheduled for October 6th in Washington D.C.

Yet many commentators can’t resist raising doubts about the groups longevity if it fails to find a unified focus, or alternatively, unless it partners with an institution. While the group is unlikely to define itself or its objectives, it has already received support from many institutions, including: the Air Line Pilots Association, the Transit Workers Union Local 100, and the Service Employees International Union. Time will reveal what this support will mean for the budding movement, if anything. But, so far the movements strength has been its broad platform, and this will likely fracture under political pressure to clearly define itself and its demands.

For more information, please see:

‘Occupy Wall Street’ Only Growing Stronger — 30 September 2011

Occupy Wall Street Protesters Settle In, Despite Weather And Police Clashes –29 September 2011

The Revolution will not be Liberalised — 28 September 2011

‘Occupy Wall Street’ Protesters get Boost from Filmmaker Michael Moore — 27 September 2011

NYPD Pepper-Spaying Caught on Camera — 26 September 2011

Why ‘Occupy Wall Street’? — 26 September 2011

‘Occupy Wall Street’ Protests Turn Violent; Video Shows Police Macing Women — 25 September 2011

Author: Tyler Campbell

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