‘Occupy’ Protests Pick Up Steam, Spread to Hundreds of Cities
As the Occupy Wall Street movement enters into its third week, it is arguably more powerful than ever before, as support groups spring up across the nation and in many international cities.
"To me, it's the collective frustration of a generation of people who have no future," said David Stephenson, an organizer of Occupy Charleston, WV.
Since Wednesday, Stephenson said his local Occupy movement Facebook page has gained 100 followers.
"At this point, we're gaining just as many people today if not more," he said.
Thanks in part to Occupy Together, a hub for the movements forming around the nation and in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, it's easy for citizens to find ways to join a movement that is sharply critical of corporate wealth, among other things, at a grassroots level.
On Thursday afternoon, Occupy Together "meetups" could be found in 575 cities that stretched across the world to places as diverse as Athens, Greece, and Wellington, New Zealand.
Stephenson said he became involved in the movement because government has lost its focus. The political candidates and legislation backed by the most money win. Corporations are protected by the government, despite their lax ethics. Students are graduating tens of thousands of dollars in debt with no job prospects, and are unable to find work in their fields.
"The kind of change I would like to see is a government that represents the people," he said.
The original Occupy Wall Street protest in Manhattan increased its credibility Wednesday after thousands of union workers joined the ranks of dissatisfied protesters. The extra boost allowed the number of protesters to reach a peak level following the group's original descent on Wall Street on Sept. 17, according to media reports.
At least 15 unions were expected to participate in Wednesday afternoon's march from Foley Square to the Financial District, according to Occupy Wall Street's website. One of the unions, the Transport Workers Local 100, estimated on its website that participants numbered 10,000 strong.
President Barack Obama acknowledged during a Thursday news conference plugging his jobs bill that he knew of the Occupy Wall Street movement; he had seen it on television.
"I think it expresses the frustration that the American people feel that we had the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression - huge collateral damage all throughout the country, all across Main Street - and yet you're still seeing some of the same folks who acted irresponsibly trying to fight efforts to crack down on abusive practices that got us into these problems in the first place," Obama said when questioned about the protests.
A common slogan of the group is, "We are the 99 percent," referring to the group's belief that the greed and corruption of the wealthiest American corporations and citizens, symbolized by Wall Street, can no longer be tolerated.
"I think the American people understand that not everybody's been following the rules, that Wall Street is an example of that," Obama said.
After four buses manned by Transport Workers Local 100 members were overtaken by police last Saturday and used to arrest protesters blocking traffic on the George Washington bridge, unions rushed in earlier this week to voice solidarity with the movement, and pledged protesters, food and other supplies.
"While we battle it out day after day, month after month, the millionaires and billionaires on Wall Street sit by - untouched - and lecture us on the level of our sacrifice," said Larry Hanley, president of the Amalgated Transit Union International. "It's about time this happened."
In a news release issued Wednesday, Hanley also praised the Occupy Wall Street activists for exposing the corruption on Wall Street, and pledged the support of the entire 190,000-member union.
The Transport Workers Local 100 are hopeful the movement will have a lasting impact.
"We'd like to see it become a political movement," said Alan Shaply, director of publications for the union. "There's no doubt about that."
Shaply said the union would like to see an end to the costly Afghanistan war, a redistribution of incomes, more investment in mass transit, and the reintroduction of the so-called "millionaire's tax" in the New York State Assembly.
But where Shaply was specific, the Occupy Wall Street movement as a whole has not been, receiving hefty criticism from major news organizations and politicians. Initial press coverage seemed to mock the protesters.
"Occupy Wall Street, a diffuse and leaderless convocation of activists against greed, corporate influence, gross social inequality and other nasty byproducts of wayward capitalism not easily extinguishable by street theater, had hoped to see many thousands join its protest and encampment, which began Sept. 17. According to the group, 2,000 marched on the first day; news outlets estimated that the number was closer to several hundred." (New York Times, Sept. 23)
Dr. Jeff Frieden, co-author of Lost Decades: The Making of America's Debt Crisis and the Long Recovery, said in an email that he still doesn't see serious media coverage of the event.
"Perhaps it's too soon to tell. I am not sure anyone knows what its specific demands are, but I think the general outline of their criticism - that the financial community is to blame for a lot of what has happened, and should be made to pay more to fix what it broke - is well worthy of serious attention from the media," said the Harvard University professor.
Still, there doesn't seem to be the potential for Occupy Wall Street to become a separate political party, as it is far from even the Democratic left wing and almost hostile to electoral politics, according to Frieden.
"Like the Tea Party, if it is going to have any broader impact it will have to develop a leadership; and if it is going to have any impact on policy it will have to work within the existing electoral and party structure," he said.
Those involved in the movement disagree. Stephenson said his home state has never been so quick to mobilize.
"In my opinion, I think it's something that's never been seen before," he said.