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2 min cheat sheet: Occupy Wall Street protests

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“We are the 99 per cent.”

The other one per cent are those with all the power who ruined an economy, corrupted a system and contributed to a poverty of life experience. That’s the rap from the Occupy Wall Street protestors who have moved en masse into the financial district of New York to let the authorities know they’ve had enough.

Some are even calling the Democrat’s Tea Party, an alternative riff on the extreme right movement in the United States that is pushing for smaller Government.

So how did all this start?

It started, as these things often do, with a grievance. Or multiple grievances. The US economy is a shadow of its former self, politics is worse than ever and there seems to be no hope of bipartisan resolve. Nobody’s working together and everybody else is pissed off. Activist magazine Adbusters put out the original call for something to be done in July.

“Our nation, our species and our world are in crisis. The US has an important role to play in the solution, but we can no longer afford to let corporate greed and corrupt politics set the policies if our nation.

We, the people of the United States of America, considering the crisis at hand, now reassert our sovereign control of our land.”

Check out this video for an interesting take:

And what are they doing to try and make that happen?

They’ve occupied Wall Street! Well, to be precise the streets and parks around it as police cordoned off the actual Wall Street. Rallies are now being held in 73 other cities around the world. Protest numbers aren’t anywhere near the 90,000 originally aimed for, but they’re working on it and momentum seems to grow every day. The protests began on September 17 with one clear goal: occupy Wall Street for two months, we’ll figure the rest out later.

Those involved say the movement is ‘leaderless’ but powerful all the same. They say that the precise reason for marching, for occupying the financial district, will be crowdsourced and decided by no one person. In other words it’s a protest of thousands who know why they wanted to go – no health cover, huge college debts and so on – but not necessarily where they want to go with it.

Those who have been asked compare the civilian, peaceful uprising to those that have overthrown authoritarian rule in the ‘Arab Spring’ in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. “We thought, why isn’t there a backlash here?” Kalle Lasn, the editor-in-chief of Adbusters says. “We need to shake up the corporate-driven capitalist system we’re in. To do that, we needed something radical.”

What are the demands being made?

As mentioned, there is/are no official demand(s). But that’s not to say there aren’t plenty of suggestions! Some conservative commentators have noted of the protests: “If you put every single left-wing cause into a blender, this is the sludge you’d get.”

Some examples of demands being made: Universal, single payer healthcare; a guaranteed living wage regardless of employment (kind of like the dole); free college education; one trillion in infrastructure spending now; one trillion dollars in ecological restoration spending now; racial and gender equal rights amendment; bring American elections up to international standards with paper ballots and physical recounts (the United States uses a computer system to conduct elections). There are many more, but this is just a taste.

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Have they really been peaceful?

Well, that depends on your definition of peaceful. Police have arrested hundreds of protestors throughout the protests, with 700 alone being arrested on a march across the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. The New York Police Department has cited disorderly conduct as the major reason for the arrests.

Numerous videos have emerged of police macing and beating protestors with nightsticks, like this one:

“Each new macing video that’s released, each new depiction of the abuses of the police on the First Amendment, the more people will show up here in New York City,” one protestor says. “And the more waves of occupation will spread across this country. And you should be proud of that police, because you are participating in our media publicity campaign. Thank you for attending.”

What have the critics been saying?

Mostly, that the protestors are a bunch of good-for-nothing college radicals looking for a scrap. Which, whatever you think of the actual ideology behind the protests, is a little bit disingenuous. It might have started out that way but the protests have grown into a diverse group of people. And yes, that includes the college students.

Ginia Bellafante wrote in the New York Times:

“The group’s lack of cohesion and its apparent wish to pantomime progressivism rather than practice it knowledgably is unsettling in the face of the challenges so many of its generation face — finding work, repaying student loans, figuring out ways to finish college when money has run out. But what were the chances that its members were going to receive the attention they so richly deserve carrying signs like “Even if the World Were to End Tomorrow I’d Still Plant a Tree Today”?

Where to from here?

Who knows. The protest hasn’t fizzled like many expected it would and the nation’s media are beginning to take notice. The President, Barrack Obama, has even addressed the concerns of the rally. They’ve been going for almost a month and there’s still another left to go, if they stick to the original goal.

There have been similar protests planned for Australia with groups on Facebook reaching 2000 ‘fans’ and rallies planned for Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane sometime this month and next.

Whatever happens, one woman summed up the experience:

“We’re showing that ‘we the people’ really are here, present, from all walks of life,” said Tammy Bick, 49, an unemployed former medical secretary. “It’s a meeting of the minds and a voicing of our issues. That alone makes it the best single experience of my life.”

What do you think, is this a cause you could or would get behind? Or is it missing something?

Here’s some devastating signs from the protests and other pictures:

And if you have a spare 8 minutes, this Occupy Wall Street documentary is highly recommended:

Here’s a video to sum up the experience, with music:

The Police and the Protestors from Ed David on Vimeo.