Occupy Wall Street: What the Heck Is It All About?

Why, how, what, and who is occupying Wall Street? Funny you should ask. A Twitter search using the #OccupyWallStreet hashtag turns up links to innumerable articles and YouTube videos from a movement with "a million spokespersons."

But let's break the story down into bite-sized chunks. It's easier to digest that way.

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1. Who is occupying Wall Street? A quick glance through the major news sites -- hey, they're paying attention now! It only took three weeks -- shows photos of people of all races, ages, classes, and political affiliations camped out in Zuccotti Park. Most appear to be white and under 30, and the hard core of protesters is unemployed (or else they accrued a lot of vacation time from Lehman Bros. and they have a sense of humor). Seriously, though, the population shifts from hour to hour and those with jobs and high profiles (Susan SarandonMark Ruffalo) come down whenever work schedules allow. World War II vets are there. Moms are marching, too.

2. "They still look like hippies to me. Don't they know they'd be taken more seriously if they wore something nice from the Gap?" I'm not sure that the best way to fight against the enormous influence of huge corporations on global trade would be to show up wearing a kicky sun dress that was sewn together by a Malaysian teenager. "But if they cut their hair and took a bath, maybe they'd have jobs!" you might say. If there were jobs to be had, I'm sure some of them might cut their hair and laser off their tattoos. But this is political theater, as we saw when a bunch of protesters dressed up like money-eating zombies on Monday. Protesters use their clothes to get attention. People got upset when the suffragettes wore trousers. It's just a thing.

3. So what do they want? It depends on whom you ask. Some address civil rights; others just enjoy group hugs. Most share a base anger at the financial institutions they feel are responsible for our rotten economy, the unions that have betrayed the working class, and the fact that corporations are running the United States instead of the people who were elected to do so. Among younger protesters, a common shared complaint revolves around crawling out from under student loan debt (which, unlike a bad mortgage, cannot be walked away from). For older people who have lost their jobs, insurance, health care, and/or hope, joining the protest or even posting their stories on We Are the 99 Percent has given those "who played by the rules, did what they were told, and now have nothing to show for it" a place to cry, vent, and simply be heard.

4. Sounds peaceful. Why are people getting arrested? Beats me. You don't see tear gas at Tea Party rallies, and those people can get pretty angry. If protesters were indeed led into a trap on the Brooklyn Bridge, it only served to make the police look bad and draw more support for the protesters.

5. Who's in charge? Nobody yet, but seasoned activists say that this could prove to be a training ground for future protest organizers.

6. Is this going to be the left's response to the Tea Party? As fulfilling as saving the whales has been, the left could use a reinvigorated base with a solid domestic issue to rally around. As of yet, the protests are unaffiliated with any political party, but maybe that's for the best, says Bill Van Auken at the World Socialist Web Site, who writes, "As this movement develops, it faces the danger, as so often happens with every form of protest in America, of being channeled into the grip of the Democratic Party." In other words, once protesters align themselves with a political party, that party can use the protests to advance their own interests, which might not necessarily reflect those of the protesters. I mean, if billionaire George Soros is already sympathizing with your plight, what exactly do you have to do to scare the powers that be?

7. I can't travel to New York or Boston or Los Angeles. How can I get involved? New protests are popping up across the U.S. daily. Start one in your town today!

 

Image by Carwil Bjork-James/Flickr

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