Politics Straight, No Chaser
Wall Street ‘occupiers’ take NYC
Published: Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, October 4, 2011 04:10
Last Sunday began as any usual day in Zuccotti Park in New York City. Tourists mulled about and posed in front of what has become one of the city's many attractions, Wall Street's famous Charging Bull statue. That afternoon, a few dozen college students set up to camp out through the night to protest outside the World Financial Center as traders and brokers arrived for the opening bell Monday morning.
Support for their efforts, as well as a local following, quickly grew, and the group's numbers began to increase by midday Monday. Operation "Occupy Wall Street" had officially begun.
In this case, Wall Street serves as a physical rallying point for the protests and a symbol of the corporate greed the protesters despise. While the general unifying cause is the same, it appears many have been driven there for specific reasons. Some are using the platform to speak against issues like social inequity, global climate change and corporate influence on politics, to name a few.
Leaders on Wall Street and in other financial institutions have been largely blamed for the country's current economic crisis. Since the downturn began in 2008, the public has grown increasingly frustrated with the lack of change and apparent unaccountability.
As unemployment rises, wages are cut or remain stagnant, and the American middle class has taken the brunt of the hit. Many take offense at record-high corporate bonuses and the persistence of risky fiscal behavior that caused the financial collapse in the first place. With the richest 400 Americans controlling more of our nation's money than 180 million Americans combined, the wealth gap continues to widen. Many of the nation's wealthiest Americans also pay lower tax rates than the middle class because they pay capital gains tax instead of standard income tax. The notion of shared sacrifice for funding the federal government is lacking, according to the Wall Street protesters.
The protesters have become highly organized. Members take turns operating what they call a "General Assembly," which takes care of living essentials for the group. They've set up a makeshift medical unit and have reportedly even organized volunteer legal advice for those who are arrested. In just days, a website was set up with the purpose of spreading the demonstrators' message nationally. Not only do the protesters seem to be digging their heels in, it appears their goal is to spread across the country.
As the protest has grown, so has the New York police force standing across the street. According to the police, the protest is unlawful because the demonstrators have not been issued a permit. This led to what some have called the unnecessary use of violent force against the protesters. Videos of NYPD officers barricading protesters in with netting and then proceeding to pepper spray them have gone viral. Pepper spray is generally used as a crowd dispersal tactic, but with the protesters netted in, they seemingly had nowhere to disperse to.
Over the weekend, "Occupy Wall Street" spread to the Brooklyn Bridge. More than 700 arrests were made as protesters blocked traffic and refused to respond to NYPD demands. A recent university graduate now living in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn reported that supporters were promoting all throughout the borough.
"If anything impressed me, it was the amount of people who were angry at the protesters," the alumnus said. "Like normal people who thought they had no purpose, people calling them ‘trust-fund hipsters,' rich kids whose parents supposedly support them.
"It's just hippies and signs and naked women. Some of it seemed really hippie movement-ish—naked women walking around, drum circles and cheers."
Some claimed NYPD officers had tricked the protesters into an area where they could be arrested on the bridge Saturday. Observers and bystanders have denied this rumor, and video evidence uploaded to the Internet appears to confirm that there was no wrongdoing on the part of the police in this respect.
As the days go on and the weather gets chillier, the protests show no sign of fizzling out. The movement's eighth day enjoyed a strong showing yesterday, despite the rain. Similar protests have popped up across the nation in at least seven other major cities. They have taken the name "Occupy Los Angeles," "Occupy Boston," and so on. Michael Moore, the liberal social activist and filmmaker who spoke at the Wall Street protest last week, said, "The uprising will occur in this country […] We don't know exactly how it is going to take place. It could be that last person who's being thrown out of their home after working hard all their lives, the last foreclosure, or the last person who lost a family member because they didn't have health insurance. That person is going to start [protesting] and it's going to go and blow across the country in a nonviolent way."
We'll have to wait and see if "Occupy Wall Street" becomes the trigger for any real change in America policy and gains traction with mainstream Americans, or whether it's just another public nuisance soon forgotten by the public and ignored by our nation's politicians.