By: Nesima Aberra
Since the start of the Occupy Wall Street movement that began in New York on September 17, 2011 in Liberty Square, protesters around the United States and the globe have cast attention on the notion of corporate greed by the top wealthy 1% at the expense of 99% of the population. The Occupy Wall Street movement is modeled after the leaderless revolution in the Middle East and North Africa, utilizing social media and grassroots organization to spread their message and create meet ups in different cities. This November 17 was designated Mass Day of Action. Occupy Together was created to be “a hub” for international events within the Occupy Wall Street movement.
The movement has its detractors as well just as the Arab Spring did, for not being focused enough, too left-wing, disruptive and anti-capitalist. Many protesters like in Oakland and in Zuccotti Park have encountered pepper-spray and physical confrontation from local police, creating mass controversy over the limits of police brutality and freedom of assembly.
The passion behind Occupy Wall Street has now transferred and been repackaged into various offshoot movements to include more voices, more ideas, and more concerns.
Occupy Colleges calls itself a movement working in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street by mobilizing students on their campuses to sound off on rising college tuition, student loan debt and overall economic inequality. Occupy Colleges encouraged students to walk out of their college classrooms on November 17’s Mass Day of Action. Adeline Hill, a Woman and Gender Studies and Sustainability senior at Arizona State University, participated in Occupy ASU and attended the general assembly to discuss relevant student issues. She says the strength of the Occupy movement is that there is no mandate about what participants have to believe in, allowing for the focus on extremely local issues.
Hill says that students are “absolutely adding to the conversation” with student loans and tuition and that they tend to be younger so there is more willingness to change and learn. But she does have some criticism of the Occupy Movement.
“The overall problem I find is that it’s primarily about economic justice, but it ignores other struggles for justice, such as racial issues,” Hill says. She notes that on the Occupy Wall Street essential reading list there are no authors of color and that the movement is made primarily of white people.
“The ‘We are the 99% ‘rhetoric assumes a level of equality that doesn’t exist. It’s inaccurate frankly. Not everyone has access to the same privileges, those aren’t taken into account,” she says.
Benjamin Lang, a Global Health and Gender Studies student at Arizona State University, also has his concerns with the use of the term “occupy” in the movement’s name.
“Even the wording of Occupy is problematic-we live on occupied indigenous lands. Wall Street is on occupied indigenous land. Most of America is on occupied indigenous land. To call this movement an occupation is to erase the occupation already taking place,” Lang says.
Although Lang and Hill have not encountered any dangerous confrontations, other student protesters haven’t been so lucky. University of California-Davis is getting a lot of heat for the use of pepper spray by police on Occupy UC Davis student protesters who were camped out on university property on November 18. The school’s administration has said it is launching an investigation of the incident with a task force composed of students and staff that will submit a report within 90 days. There is a petition circulating for the school’s chancellor Linda Katehi to resign because of her statements that they had “a responsibility to the community” to ensure student safety during the demonstrations.
If the Occupy movement functions on pitting the working and lower class majority against the excessively wealthy, it would seem strange to see celebrities showing their support of the protesters and even joining them at times. Historian Dr. Cornell West, rapper Lupe Fiasco, actress Susan Sarandon and filmmaker Michael Moore have all voiced their support over for the 99% despite their closer connection to the 1%.
In regards to the police raid of Zuccoti Park in New York on November 15, media mogul Russell Simmons tweeted, “ths morning my prayers R w/the #ows group but my body is on way 2 boston 2 push forward on ending wallstreets control.”
Some celebrities like Simmons have dropped by protest sites to pass out food and drink to the protesters as well. But not everyone appreciates the star-studded solidarity though. Some have complained that it takes away from the credibility of the Occupy mission and are only trying to create a relatable image. Jay-Z is being criticized of trying to profit off of the movement after he created a series of t-shirts saying “Occupy All Street” with no plans to donate proceeds to the movement itself. The shirts have now been taken down from Jay-Z’s Rocawear website.
It’s not surprising that an Internet meme called Occupy Hollywood has then emerged taking celebrities to task for their comfy lifestyles and excessive wealth. Cartoon illustrations of figures like reality show stars Snooki and Kim Kardashian are matched with snarky statements like “I’m famous because of a sex tape. I had a $17,000,000 wedding this year. I just returned from an all-expense-paid trip to Dubai….I am the asshole%” Some people may consider what these actors and artists do not worthy of earning such big figures and it may not be long before protesters could start adding the entertainment industry to its list of targets.
We are the 53%
Conservative opponents of the Occupy Wall Street movement are rallying under the “We are the 53%,” referring to the idea that 53 percent of American pay federal income taxes. The “We are the 53%” website, created by political commentator Erick Erickson, consists of individuals sharing their personal stories of hard work and sacrifice to achieve economic independence and success without blaming Wall Street.
The site’s lone tag line states, “Those of us who pay for those of you who whine about all of that… or that… or whatever.
One post by a high school junior describes how she is an athlete, fast food employee and has worked for everything she owns.
“I will not accept money from people wealthier than me because it is NOT MY MONEY,” she writes. “People should not be punished for making any more money than anyone else. I will be the 53% (and proud of it)”
Other posts echo stories of having multiple grueling jobs, belief in their own destiny, desire to live within their means and refusal to accept government hand outs.
The Future of the Movement
Despite its setbacks and chaotic chronology, Occupy Wall Street has spawned dozens of sub-movements, solidarity campaigns and parodies proving that citizens of all backgrounds are ready and willing to engage in a dialogue about economic injustice and democracy.
“People are experiencing the creation of autonomous spaces,” Lang says. “People are seeing how consensus based decision-making works…. And people are making their voices heard. And that is awesome.”
Shepard Fairey, the creator of the iconic HOPE poster of President Obama has now altered the picture to resemble the face of the character V, from V for Vendetta with the words, “Mister President, we hope you’re on our side.”
Fairey, a supporter for the Occupy Movement, writes in his blog that he believes Obama is still the “closest thing to ‘a man on the inside’ that we have presently” and that change is not about one election, but rather “a constant dedication to progress and a constant push in the right direction.”
That remains the biggest challenge for the Occupy General Assembly, which is responsible for identifying concrete steps for progressing towards the goal of the movement. If they cannot, protesters at all levels of the cause could find themselves on the streets—virtual or physical– for an interminable amount of time while the rest of the world finds something else to care about.