Posted by: martinworster | November 17, 2011

131. OCCUPY WALL STREET

Had the pleasure of spending nearly a week in New York City where one of the many highlights for me was visiting the Occupy Wall Street protest. The movement has since spread all around the world but started in New York. Still close to Wall Street, the protestors now reside in Zuccotti Park a stones throw away from Ground Zero and the financial district.

I visited twice and felt energised by the place. The park has become a tourist attraction in itself and generates a lot of foot traffic in an already very busy part of Manhattan. The protest is hemmed in by the police barricades and had something of a zoo about it. Protestors stand on the fringe of the square waving placards and banners advertising whatever cause they believed in. Photographers (like me) swarmed around the park taking shots to be later uploaded to Facebook, YouTube and other social media platforms – so the relationship was symbiotic. It’s amazing the new ways these movements can mobilise and publicise themselves in an instant, taking their cues from the Arab Spring uprisings and subsequent revolutions. History moves in an instant now. I took a lot of photos and each time I donated as I didn’t want to just come and take as their cause is one I believe in.

It’s pretty obvious that the divide between rich and poor has increased drastically in the last fifteen years or so – resulting in the 1% controlling a vastly disproportionate share of the wealth of the nation. Most hard working people find it difficult to live, even survive, on an average salary that is woefully out of sync with inflation and the rising cost of living. Coupled with the economic crisis, the housing market crash, high unemployment and the bank bailout, many people are insensed by CEO and corporate greed. And rightly. It is an unsustainable wealth gap. I do not know of any moral reason for the healthy and fair functioning of society that should block anyone’s understanding of that. Unless of course you are in the 1%.

Entirely how this seemingly leaderless group aims to achieve it’s goals remains unclear. Horizontal leadership is the buzz word. Plus, looking at the variety of causes protestors were representing – Israeli occupation of Palestine, environmental issues, Native American rights, feminism, to name a few of a general hodge podge of popular left wing gripes – it’s hard to see how these can all be addressed. What I did notice was that the camp was very well organised – with a library, media centre, a free kitchen, a health centre, various workshops and daily meetings and forums operating as a type of micro-democracy. The protest also stressed non-violence in achieving their goals. This was stated in all the literature I read and was promoted throughout the park on banners. I also noticed that all sorts of people – ages, races, backgrounds – were getting involved. There was definitely a contingent of hard core activists (making a career out of anarchy?) ie lots of piercings, dreadlocks, tattoos, a dog on a string, what we’d condescendingly call ‘crusties’ in the UK.

I can only see the movement as a positive thing. I take my hat off to the brave individuals who have taken the steps to finally do something. I believe it is an accurate bell weather of a majority of people who are upset by the greedy lack of morality exhibited by corporations who run the government by proxy via the lobby system. I believe this movement will grow and hopefully some positive change will occur. It also taps into the growing seam of dissatisfaction of many towards modern day capitalism and materialist consumption. People are quickly working out that the current system – being indebted to buy iPads and designer goods, working long hours on a minimum wage, being in negative equity on homes, not being able to retire, unable (in the US) to afford basic healthcare, an overall lack of basic quality of life – are not a pathway to happiness. People are searching for an alternative. I am not so radical to suggest – in a pique of student idealism, pass the spliff and Das Kapital – that capitalism must be overthrown. But there definitely needs to be some major tweaks to the current system.

It’s also interesting to see how the media (mainly right wing elements) inaccurately report the movement in attempt to suppress it’s growth. An unsophisticated spreading of propaganda to inflame the right in attempt to undermine the cause. The same old arguments are wheeled out. I often heard the criticism that the various occupy movements attract a lot of homeless people. Not surprising really, considering they are in urban areas. Plus, they are a place of safe refuge, where food and shelter could be sought, basic requirements in a healthy society that should be met by the government for those less privileged and hence homeless.

This movement will grow peacefully and I look forward to seeing it’s achievements.

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