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Occupy the World

Kat Russell, November 2, 2011

Occupy Wall Street, a leaderless protest movement that started approximately six weeks ago in New York City, has quickly become a global phenomenon.

 
On Sept. 17, men and women of varied backgrounds and beliefs organized at New York City's Zuccotti Park in nonviolent protest. The protestors say they represent the 99 percent and have gathered in protest with the goal of ending the greed and corruption amongst the wealthiest 1 percent of America.
 
"This is a populist movement," New York occupier, Tony Smith, told Digital Journal. "We don't know why everyone is out of work, but the stratification between the rich and poor has grown to an alarming level, and people in poverty aren't going to stand for it much longer."
 
The current official poverty level in the United States is 15.1 percent, meaning that approximately 42.6 million Americans are currently living in poverty—the highest number since the poverty figures were first calculated in the 1960s. Meanwhile the wealth of the top 10 percent has nearly tripled over the past 30 years.
 
Inspiration for the nonviolent movement began with a "call to action" that stemmed from Adbusters, the Canadian based anti-consumerism magazine. The "call to action" was posted on the Adbusters blog on July 13 and called for consumers to gather tents, food, clothes and other necessities and peacefully make camp on Wall Street starting Sept. 17.
 
"The time has come to deploy this emerging stratagem against the greatest corrupter of our democracy: Wall Street, the financial Gomorrah of America," read the Adbusters blog. "On September 17, we want to see 20,000 people flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months. Once there, we shall incessantly repeat one simple demand in a plurality of voices."
 
Some connect the occupation movement to the Arab Spring uprisings, which swept through Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and other Arab countries this year, in being a leaderless resistance movement orchestrated through social media tools such as Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter.
 
In a press conference on Oct. 6, President Barak Obama called the protests "a reflection of the broad-based frustration regarding how our financial system works" and vowed to continue fighting for American consumers.
 
Since the initial occupation of Wall Street, the movement has spread to more than 1,000 cities in at least 92 countries worldwide. In the United States, occupations have sprouted up in almost every major city as well as in many smaller suburbs.
 
The movement was started in protest of corruption in big corporations and financial institutions and its influence on political policy. Irresponsible loans made by large financial institutions that helped cause the financial crisis, the recent wave of nationwide housing foreclosures and recent hikes in banking fees are a few of the issues on which protestors have focused their attention.
 
Many of the occupations have set up Facebook pages and Twitter accounts to spread word of their activities—general assembly meetings, marches, classes—as well as grow their numbers and donations. Social media has also enabled occupations to communicate with each other, keeping each other informed of successes, hardships and issues with the police. Recently word was spread for the "Global Action Day" march via various social media sites and websites, calling people to take to the streets for a peaceful demonstration calling for global change.
 
On Oct. 15, occupations all over the world joined in what they have dubbed the "Global Change March," during which hundreds of thousands of people in more than 1,000 cities poured into the streets to march for change. The turnouts for the event averaged 10,000 or more people in each city, with the most notable turnout in Madrid, Spain, where 500,000 people packed into the city center and surrounding streets in peaceful protest.
 
"This was no doubt one of the most important mass protests in Chicago that I have ever been a part of," said Chicago Global Change March participant Ana Santoyo, an organizer for ANSWER Chicago. "We should support and help this movement grow and spread. The right to a job, a home, free education and healthcare—those are rights everybody should have, and we'll keep fighting until we achieve those basic rights and more."
 
Each city has handled the occupations differently. While many city officials have voiced their support for the occupiers and deemed their concerns to be valid, others have voiced frustration with or disapproval of the movement. Occupy Los Angeles has been in effect for the past month, and the movement has remained calm and peaceful as the occupiers have enjoyed support from both city council members and the LAPD throughout the occupation's duration.
 
Occupy Wall Street in New York City, on the other hand, has endured frequent clashes between police and protestors, often resulting in violence and incidents of alleged police brutality. Recent reports have accused the NYPD of sending transients and troublemakers to Zuccotti park, encouraging them to join the movement, in what was believed an attempt to unravel the encampment's unity. The NYPD declined to comment as to whether or not their officers have been doing so or directed to do so.
 
Other cities, such as Oakland and Atlanta, have sent police forces in the past week to break down the encampments and evict the occupiers. The Oakland encampment was one of the more recent evictions, which happened on Oct. 26. Approximately 500 police officers dressed in riot gear entered the encampment around 5 a.m. and started tearing down tents and forcing the occupiers to leave Frank Ogawa Plaza.
 
That same evening, approximately 1,000 protestors gathered with the intention of taking back the plaza, but were met by police blocking their route. The confrontation between the protestors and the police escalated into a full-scale riot as protestors threw objects at the officers and police forces released multiple cans of tear gas, fired flash-bang grenades and shot rubber bullets. The melee resulted in Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen being seriously injured when he was hit in the head by a police projectile, spurring responses of outrage from people all over the nation. Complaints of excessive force and police brutality have been brought against the Oakland police.
 
Despite the efforts of police forces in various cities to break up the growing encampments, occupiers have returned to their occupation sites with a vengeance, vowing that they will not be denied their rights to assemble peacefully. In Oakland's case, protestors returned to reclaim their encampment, after several clashes with the police, in larger numbers than there were before.
 
The Occupy Wall Street movement is a bit of an anomaly. In a country based on leadership, a leaderless and all-inclusive movement has left onlookers wondering what it is the occupiers really hope to achieve. At OccupyLA, multiple organizations and causes have gathered to share in the occupiers' limelight. On any given day one can see representatives from organizations lobbying for education funding, immigrant rights, animal rights, union jobs and even the legalization of marijuana. One can't help but wonder how successful a movement that appears to be so divided in focus can be. Regardless, the underlying message being carried seems to be consistent: Take the money out of politics, implement stricter regulations for large corporate and financial institutions, and treat the average American as if he or she is just as important as the bigwig.
 
 
Kat Russell is a multimedia journalist living in Los Angeles.

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