Occupy Wall Street
|A guide to|
|Hail to the Chief?|
|Persons of interest|
Occupy Wall Street is a grassroots (meaning not astroturfed) protest movement that began on September 17, 2011, initiated by the Canuckistani culture-jamming group Adbusters. Protesters occupied the street at Zuccotti Park (formerly Liberty Plaza) in New York City (and other locations across the United States and around the world) as a way of demonstrating against the financial powers mostly responsible for the economic crisis of 2008, the vast, increasing wealth gap between the rich and everyone else (hence "We are the 99%"), and corporate power, with particular emphasis on corporate control of the government and government policy.
The primary target of the movement's anger was the mishandling of the economy over the past few years, most especially the Wall Street bailout but also the bailout of the auto industry and the broader deregulation movement that dominated politics of the past decade and, to a lesser extent, the 1990's (ironically, while the Tea Party and the Occupy movements are generally viewed as being at opposite sides of the political spectrum, both cite bailouts as major motivating factors for protests).
As its name suggests, Occupy Wall Street began in the United States, but its tactics were used by protesters in many other major financial centres around the world by what has become the Occupy movement, with varying results. A more comprehensive list can be seen at the Occupy Directory.
Unlike with its right-wing astroturf equivalent the Tea Party movement, most mainstream news organizations opted not to cover the movement initially, perhaps thinking it wouldn't last. Initial media coverage of the movement was limited to the left-wing press, but when police officers were caught on camera being extremely aggressive against peaceful protesters, the mainstream media sat up and took notice — after which the protestors came to feature prominently in the news.
This would tend to suggest that the mainstream media does not actually have a liberal bias, as conservatives over the years have claimed (the left-wing press, very much in contrast, was reporting on Occupy Wall Street before it started) — although it might be slapped with that label just for showing that level of concern for the protesters' civil liberties.
Criticism of the movement largely focused on the character of the protest, or on the protesters themselves, rather than the substance of the message. The lack of any official spokespersons for the movement, however, meant that while one can point to areas of consensus, there was no official platform for the movement.
The standard criticisms against this sort of mass movement have been trotted out, with the Occupiers characterized as a gaggle of jobless, parasitic hippies. While Occupy Wall Street had indeed drawn the usual cranks and alte kaempfer out of the woodwork, particularly among the protest's dedicated movers and shakers, they were joined by quite a few ordinary people, who had felt the pinch of the economic recession and attributed their troubles to the large amount of wealth held by the upper class. And their evidence is massive.
Incipient anti-American Reign of Terror!
Then there were those who viewed Occupy Wall Street's message as anti-American and generally evil. Rush Limbaugh called them "stupid idiots and tools", while Glenn Beck said "They will come for you and drag you into the streets and kill you...they're Marxist radicals...these guys are worse than Robespierre from the French Revolution...they'll kill everybody."
The U.S.'s income distribution, as measured by the Gini coefficient, is more unequal than most OECD countries. In addition, the Stars and Stripes draped quite a few of the tents during the (US) protests  This suggests that, contrary to sweeping claims of anti-Americanism, many of those sympathetic to the movement and at least a fair number of those who participate generally considered protesting their patriotic duty.
RedState.com started a counter-movement/meme to the "99%" called the "53%", referring to the percentage of U.S. citizens who make enough money to pay income taxes. The movement's main Tumblr site shows individuals with their picture and a handwritten note about their place in America (similar to those involved in the 99% movement), usually to the effect of "Suck it up, you whiners!" and "I never asked for a handout!"
Some of the 53%-ers' assertions are actually evidence that those individuals are in denial about their own place in America and the role of the government in their lives. Counter-counter-movement sites were created to call out those who say they are the 53%, pointing out that the content they provided suggests otherwise (for example, someone who attended a public university, benefited from safety regulations, or served in the military clearly depended on the government for something, regardless of what their confirmation bias might lead them to believe).
This also completely ignores the reason why certain people pay no income tax: i.e. they make so little that any further reduction in their paychecks would push their quality of life even further beyond the poverty line to the point that any good would become unaffordable, even the very essential ones. This is including welfare transfers, which should really say something about the level of pay (or lack thereof) for lower to middle class Americans. The simplest solution to getting these individuals to pay income tax without further harming them would be to raise their wages, but of course that's freedom-hating communism, so it's clearly evil in some way.
Of course, the inventor of the term was a guy named Erick Erickson, who makes his living by telling other people (who may or may not already be employed) they should "get a job", so it's because of Occupiers that he has a job.
The 99% movement also spawned a sister movement online, similar to the "We are the 99%" site, which features self-attributed members of the 1% who believe that the economic inequalities in the U.S. should be assessed. Many of the entries finish with "Tax me more, I can afford it!", which suggested altruism is not the outmoded concept that some would like to think it is.
Perhaps the most notable example of an adherent to this is billionaire Warren Buffett, who has so strongly advocated for a fairer tax system that Barack Obama named his tax proposal, the Buffett Rule, after him.
Another criticism is to put the protest in global perspective, characterizing its goal as "making privileged Westerners more equal in status to other privileged Westerners, which downplays the plight of those in the Third World who are in real poverty". In other words, dismissing economic inequality within the developed world as a case of first world problems, with the American working class still, in their assessment, better off than 90% of the world's population and therefore part of the elite themselves, not realizing just how good they have it. Occupy Wall Street supporters generally treat this as a red herring calculated to divide one group of oppressed people from another group of oppressed people, while downplaying the plight of working class Americans. Considering that the only thing[what?] keeping the fate of the US's working class from the situation faced in developing countries is slowly being diminished, said Occupiers may have had a point.
The risks of populism and the 1%
The now-famous "We are the 99%" slogan, some can argue, is both a significant strength for Occupy and a major weakness, which goes into the limitations and risks inherent in populism. The 99% vs 1% dynamic, for all its inclusiveness, has within it the temptation of reducing politics with all its compromises and finer dynamics into simplistic moralism, if not devolve into endless blame games on both sides. In such a framework, the 1% and any symbol or institution associated with them (e.g. Wall Street) can make for convenient scapegoats on the part of Occupiers, something that can be easily taken and abused by cranks and conspiracy theorists. For both critics and supporters however, this can be countered by actually getting to work on finding practical solutions while acknowledging that pinning down the villainous powers-that-be is pointless when just about everyone is (somewhat) at fault.
Is this what Democracy looks like?
This point goes back to the aforementioned "lack of any official spokesperson" drawback. Occupiers made much ado of their movement's general style of direct democracy and lack of hierarchy. While these did provide a very inclusive platform (at least on paper) in that anyone's voice can be heard, in practice it made voting on common issues long and prone to interminable discussion that could dilute the message or even derail it at the last minute. At the same time, critics including those involved in Occupy itself pointed to other drawbacks such as tendency of said leaderless nature to mask an unaccountable hierarchy or elite that denies itself as such. Consequently, this also made it harder to rein in outlying elements (the aforementioned cranks and conspiracy nutters) and actually sustain the movement in the longer term. While this by itself did not compromise Occupy at its beginning or cause it to automatically devolve into mob rule, it increasingly became evident later on as factionalism grew within the movement.
Another common criticism of Occupy is tied to the very nature of the movement itself and its plans, or rather a lack thereof, when compared (ironically enough) to the Tea Party. For Gene Sharp, the man whose How to Start a Revolution has inspired—directly or otherwise—various protests around the world (that even Occupy supporters credit him), it didn't have much of a conceivable plan or strategy to really make it work beyond the rhetoric. While supporters at large took pride in its "We are the 99%" inclusiveness, slogans and lack of an official platform as a strength, they could only go so far before more pragmatic problems entered the picture. This sense of vagueness wasn't helped by the tendency of cranks and more radical groups to project their various revolutionary and utopian visions on the movement, further adding an impression of "preaching to the choir" introversion rather than inclusiveness. It's no surprise then why some people found it harder to take Occupy seriously as time went on. To counter these criticisms, one Occupy group formed a plan to buy up, and then cancel, the personal debts of everyday Americans. As of November 2013, fifteen million dollars of debt has been written off in this way.
Woo and Crankery
While including plenty of legitimate, justified protesters and sympathizers, the Occupy movement was such that there's bound to be people there just to make a mess and generally paint a bad impression of the protests as a whole. The radical fringe and cranks however took it one step further and used Occupy as a platform to promote their groups and/or the woo of their choice.
The real 0.001%
While Occupy was a largely leftist movement, its big-tent populism meant that leftists were not the only ones who took part in it, with many on the fringe right also using the banner of Occupy to promote their own beliefs and worldviews. Conspiracy theorists like Mark Dice, David Icke, and Luke Rudkowski, who subscribe to the idea of the Illuminati ruling the world, have argued that the real enemy of the movement should be the Illuminati 'Superclass', equating to 0.001% of the world's population. These individuals and with others of similar interest attended Occupy movements expressing these sentiments. Libertarians and supporters of Ron Paul's 2012 presidential bid were also a fixture, his opposition to the Federal Reserve meshing with Occupy's opposition to the financial system more broadly. Along similar lines, Alex Jones tried to jump onto the bandwagon by holding an "Occupy the Fed" rally in 2011, as did the Oath Keepers, a right-wing militia group, though the Oath Keepers later turned against Occupy and called it a radical leftist movement. Even a minority of Tea Party activists expressed sympathy for Occupy, though the majority of them were antipathetic and dismissed it as socialist.
White supremacists and anti-Semites also took part out of a belief that the Jews controlled the big banks that Occupy was protesting, with David Duke, Greg Johnson, and the American Free Press enthusiastically championing the movement. An organizer at Occupy Kansas City promoted The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a schoolteacher who attended Occupy Los Angeles was expelled from the event after going on an anti-Semitic rant on camera, Occupy Indianapolis saw so much antisemitism and far-right activism that the Hoosier Anti-Racist Movement lodged a protest with its organizers, and Occupy Tallinn in Estonia was pretty much dominated by right-wing nationalist groups. Other far-right leaders, however, were more suspicious of Occupy, with the National Socialist American Labor Party and the National Socialist Movement both seeing it as a far-left communist movement filled with "degenerates". Adbusters' own troubling history of playing footsie with anti-Semites under the guise of opposing "neoconservatism" didn't help. Jason Kessler, the alt-right activist who led the notorious Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, also started out as a left-wing Occupy activist who advocated attacking police officers with bricks and Molotov cocktails.
And of course, Lyndon LaRouche was all about Occupy, because why wouldn't he be?
Freeman on the land
The Guardian's "Comment is Free" section became host to a handful of Freeman on the land articles in late 2011, which essentially amounted to pseudolaw with an anarchist veneer. Needless to say, these did more to help discredit Freeman ideas in the UK than anything else, with lawyers and professionals subsequently grilling those articles.
David DeGraw was one of the people responsible for coining the term "the 99%" even before Occupy and subsequently was involved in the protests. On the other hand, he considers the protests as being at the forefront of a spiritual evolution of consciousness. Unfortunately, his vision infuses enough techno-utopianism, New Age woo and shaky understanding of economics into the mix that it almost seems like something detractors would make up to discredit the Occupiers, if it wasn't taken seriously.
Policy accomplishments are not all that clear, especially in comparison to social movements of the past, like the Civil Rights Movement. It is possible that the movement pushed the Democrats, and specifically Obama and Biden, to the left on economic issues during the 2012 election cycle. This can't be proven, and it's not technically policy.
In the wake of the movement, progressive economists have become more organized and more vocal in demanding progressive policy, and it could be that they have felt empowered by the people who took to the streets. Maybe this could one day be proven (if we just ask them). Again this is not technically a policy accomplishment, though it may translate to such in the future.
The Public Mind
OWS certainly gave Americans something of a class conscience, which was seriously lacking and still is. As well, OWS really highlighted for the American people the issue of big business's influence on the government and policy. To this extent, Occupy has been credited with giving rise to the 2016 presidential candidacy of Bernie Sanders.
Occupiers throughout the states of New York and New Jersey organized Occupy Sandy in 2012 in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Their efforts helped thousands of families at a time when FEMA was (it still is) crippled in terms of funding and resources. (For all their lack of supplies, the FEMA workers themselves were really enthusiastic and passionate about their jobs and were by and large happy to work with the Occupiers).
Occupiers in Boulder, Colorado organized Occupy Boulder Flood Relief during and after the flood in 2013. They changed their name to simply "Boulder Flood Relief" as more organizations got involved, but very many former occupiers participated and the organization stayed true to the same organizing and leadership tactics and principles as Occupy did, and is still doing so today.
Sticking it to the banks and helping a brother/sister out
Occupiers throughout the United States have helped to prevent or delay numerous foreclosures.
With the aforementioned debt cancellation campaign (first it was called "Occupy Student Debt," then it was called "Strike Debt," then it was called "Rolling Jubilee", and now it's called "Debt Collective"), Occupiers and anonymous donors have helped to relieve thousands of Americans' education and medical debts. Basically, they pay off defaulted loans, meaning banks get pennies back on the dollars they gave out.
There are efforts underway to establish the Occupy Money Cooperative, which will be a credit union focused on providing FDIC-insured financial services to the economically disadvantaged. Things are moving way ahead of schedule because donors have been rather generous. Granted, this is not yet an accomplishment as the creation and activities of the cooperative have yet to occur.
In the new SEC rules currently before Congress, Occupy the SEC's 325-page letter is cited 284 times. Needless to say, the dirtbags in the Congress are doing all they can to gut those new rules before they vote on the bill.
- Everyone knows the Soros Bucks are just rolling in: Soros: Not a Funder of Wall Street Protests, Reuters
- Adbusters' OWS page
- Occupy Wall Street at Know Your Meme
- If you haven't heard of Casually Pepper Spray Everything Cop...
- Some asshole on Twitter
- In Oakland, for example, there was a touch of unpleasantness involving "black bloc" anarchists who had associated with the Occupy movement there.  
- We are the 53% on Tumblr
- We are the 99% on Tumblr
- We are not the 53% on Tumblr
- Actually you're the 47% on Tumblr
- We stand with the 99% on Tumblr
- Especially since this can mask divisive issues within the 99%.
- Something that Freakonomics author James Altucher brought up as a response to the interminable scapegoating.
- A point echoing Jo Freeman's The Tyranny of Structurelessness
- http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2011/12/201112113179492201.html "The [Occupy] protesters don't have a clear objective, something they can actually achieve. If they think they will change the economic system by simply staying in a particular location, then they are likely to be very disappointed. Protest alone accomplishes very little."
- The Occupy Love indie-documentary in 2012 for instance frames the movement, the Arab Spring and European protests among others into a rather rosy and vague narrative of global love revolution and consciousness-woo.
- Check Out How Occupy Eliminated 15 Million Dollars Of Personal Debt For Americans
- Claybough, Raven. "First Occupy Wall Street Now Occupy the Fed." The New American, 7 October 2011 (recovered 24 November 2019).
- Sunshine, Spencer. "The Right Hand of Occupy Wall Street." Political Research Associates, 24 February 2014 (recovered 24 November 2019).
- Sunshine, Spencer. "20 on the Right in Occupy." Political Research Associates, 13 February 2014 (recovered 24 November 2019).
- "Patricia McAllister, LAUSD Teacher, Fired After Airing Anti-Semitic Views." The Huffington Post, 19 October 2011 (recovered 24 November 2019).
- "Jason Kessler participated in Occupy, says another activist." WINA, 2017 (recovered 24 November 2019).
- Such as this one.
- "Nonsense or loophole?" (Benchmark #57, February 2012, p 18)
- These articles pretty much explain themselves.
- Here is the website if you want to help
- Here is the website if you want to help
- [www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/12/11/the-volcker-rule-cites-the-occupy-movement-284-times/ Take that, Erick Erickson!]