Occupy!

 

The word “Occupy” has become synonymous with worldwide protest against what the protestors see as unrestrained corporate greed and social inequality. In essence, the protests are against the capitalist regime that has allowed the richest of society to hold the most power in governing our world.The movement began at Occupy Wall Street, but has since ricocheted internationally. The occupy movements have brought protestors into the streets of over nine hundred cities around the globe: New York, Chicago, Boston, Frankfurt, Rome and Hong Kong just to name a few. The rapid spread of the occupy movement reflects the dire global economic situation, with growth stalling; unemployment rising, yet most governments have chosen to remedy this with cuts to public services.

Many of the protestors have taken to Social Networking websites such as Twitter to organize and co-ordinate their movements. Protestors are calling it a “moral” issue. Americans have taken to blogging website Tumblr (http://wearethe99percent.tumblr.com/) to explain why they are protesting. Encampments have been set up in London outside of St. Paul’s Cathedral where protestors are prepared to stay on indefinitely until their demands are met.

Their grievances are scattered across the spectrum of the political left ranging from dissatisfaction with banks and financiers, income inequality, and distrust of capitalism itself. One theme ties them together; the gains of the top of the capitalist hierarchy have been made at the expense of the bottom. Their plans for how to remedy this situation are as diverse as their complaints, making the formation of coherent demands challenging for the movement. However in many ways this characteristic is why it is generating so much support.

In New York, there have been encampments in Zuccotti Park, which the Occupy Wall Street protestors call by its old moniker, Liberty Park, since September. Signs throughout the camp read, “We are the 99%.” This slogan sums up the idea that the richest one percent of Americans enjoys the vast majority of economic gains. In the US, it is estimated that the top one percent control twenty-four percent of the income. This is up from only nine percent in 1976. The staggering income inequality resulting from one percent of the population controlling a quarter of the nations income also places the US amongst countries such as Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Guyana. This sentiment has even struck a chord with local unions who have leant some support to the protestors. The protests in the US have attracted attention from film-maker Michael Moore, and author of The Shock Doctrine Naomi Klein, to name but a few.

In addition to the large income gap, seventeen percent of individuals below 25 are jobless. Many of these young people are recent university graduates laden with dept from student loans. This problem is not confined to America, throughout the European Union unemployment for the young averages twenty percent, with Spain topping the list at forty-six percent and only Germany, the Netherlands, and Austria in the single digits.

In Italy, police and Occupy Rome protestors clashed on October 15. A demonstration numbering in the thousands quickly turned from a peaceful protest to a riot. Hooded protestors threw rocks and bottles at Italian police officers, bank windows were broken, and police vehicles were set on fire. Police responded with tear gas and water cannons that were turned on the protestors. Around 100 people were taken to the hospital that weekend with injuries suffered at the protest.

Back in the United States, violence erupted between police and Occupy protestors in Oakland on Tuesday, October 25. Hundreds of protestors marched to City Hall after being removed from the camp at Frank Ogawa Plaza where ninety-seven people were arrested for not clearing the premises after the camp was declared illegal.  Officers in full riot gear and gas masks stood behind a barricade while some protestors threw objects such as water bottles. After a warning, canisters of tear gas were thrown into the crowd and the protestors numbers thinned, but some soon returned.

Protestors also posted photos on the Internet of injuries they allege were caused by rubber bullets. The Oakland police have denied using rubber bullets against protestors, and have also denied using flash grenades. In a statement, the police reported that, “the loud noises that were heard originated from M-80 explosives thrown at the police by protestors.” One video of the scene showed a protester take a hard fall to the ground after a loud pop and a flash. When others came to aid him another pop and flash went off in the center of the crowd. The cause of the flash is still debated, but it speculated to have been a flash grenade. The severe injury of one protester, Iraq Veteran Scott Olsen has been a rallying point for many over the heavy handed police response.

The future of the Occupy movements is also unclear. The recent episodes of violence could turn away broader public support. However, if police are seen as pushing too hard against the protesters they could gain public sympathy. In Atlanta, in an action roughly simultaneous with the break-up of the camp in Oakland, fifty protestors were arrested for breaking city ordinances. Support for the protestors has come from local elected officials there who have criticized the mayor for his actions.  Broad social support will be critical for this movement to continue to have momentum, whether the camps are in New York, London, or Greensboro. The Occupy movement must come together and form a set of coherent aims that truly represents the “99%” or risk being hijacked by extremists, or worse: becoming irrelevant.

Written by: Ciji Singletary

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