Do you remember “Arab Spring,” the movement that began with a Tunisian fruit seller, Mohamed Bouazizi? I wrote about this phenomenon in January (click here), and again in February (click here). What started with Bouazizi’s self-immolation led to revolts in nearly every Arab state on the map. Since that incident last December, the world has witnessed regime changes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Revolutions are ongoing in places like Syria, Jordan, Yemen and other states.
Could this revolutionary fever reach America’s shores?
It already has.
The movement is called Occupy Wall Street. The planning stages of this event began in July 2011. The first organized march through the streets of Manhattan took place on September 17, 2011. Since that time, nearly daily protests have taken place in New York City. Additionally, the spirit of these events have led to similar demonstrations in cities coast to coast, from Boston to Portland, Oregon.
Unions, celebrities, politicians and other groups have joined the movement. Zuccotti Park, an urban space in lower Manhattan previously viewed as hallowed ground in light of its proximity to Ground Zero, has been renamed “Liberty Park.” This site has served as the epicenter of Occupy Wall Street, with daily organized “General Assemblies,” and other events. Liberty Park has frequently been the starting point for marches.
What is this movement about? On its website, Occupy describes itself as a “leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to achieve our ends and encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize the safety of all participants.”
From Wikipedia: “According to Adbusters, a primary protest organizer, the central demand of the protest is that President Obama “ordain a Presidential Commission tasked with ending the influence money has over our representatives in Washington”. However, the protesters themselves have not reached agreement on any one or any set of specific demands. Liberal commentator Michael Moore had suggested that this is not like any other protest but this protest represents a variety of demands with a common statement about government corruption and the excessive influence of big business and the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans on U.S. laws and policies.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York originally expressed support for the movement, stating, “People have a right to protest, and if they want to protest, we’ll be happy to make sure they have locations to do it.” That was before the marching began.
Bloomberg, who made billions dispensing financial information as a Wall Street insider, has since faced one of his toughest challenges as mayor of America’s biggest city. For, the protests are an indirect assault on New York’s financial institutions and specifically target America’s wealthiest 1%, a class that presumably includes Bloomberg himself.
New York’s official response has been through its police department. Unfortunately, the NYPD’s actions have been disturbing, and have drawn comparisons to infamous forces, such as the gestapo. Alleged pepper spraying of protestors has raised strong implications of disproportionate use of force. The October 3, 2011 incident in which marchers were allegedly directed or invited by police to march in the traffic lanes of the Brooklyn Bridge led a “kettling” in which more than 700 protestors were arrested for blocking traffic.
Additionally, fissures have opened within the force itself. Rank-and-file “blue shirts” have seemingly paused to ask themselves why they are arresting marchers (often comprised of union workers) with whom they share much in common. Indeed, evidence has emerged that “white shirts” or NYPD supervisory officers have been the officials who have committed the most blatant acts against the protestors. The New York Times reported on this dynamic on October 2, 2011 (click here to read).
Tensions between police and protestors have been heightened by the allegation that the NYPD (a force that garnered worldwide praise for its bravery and devotion to its citizen in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks) has been co-opted as a rented security force for Wall Street financial interests. This perception was bolstered by JP Morgan Chase’s $4.6 million donation to the NYPD Foundation which coincided with the beginning of the protests.
Smart people whom I respect are writing on the movement. If you are so inclined, check out Nicholas Kristof’s “The Bankers and the Revolutionaries” (click here to read), as well as blog posts by The New Yorker’s John Cassidy (click here). However, by and large, the major news organizations have taken a pass on the Occupy Wall Street stories. Intelligent people must ask if this has anything to do with the fact that our media is controlled by large money interests.
Think about it, vastly more ink and air time were devoted to New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie’s non-entry into the presidential race than to major protests in America’s financial capital. Christie, who from the beginning ruled out any bid for the GOP nomination, surprised no one when he officially put the urgings of Republican “luminaries” such as Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush to bed on October 4. Overnight, Christie became a household name. But, how many people are discussing Organize Wall Street around the dinner table right now?
Admittedly some of the causes incorporated into the free-wheeling populist movement have added a sideshow flavor to the event. However, the main assertion of Occupy Wall Street cannot be denied: Wall Street financial institutions and the wealthiest of our society have benefited while having played a big hand in creating the crisis which has harmed millions of less-fortunate Americans.
Mohamed Bouzizi could never have anticipated the extent to which his actions of December 17, 2010, have influenced world history.