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#OccupyWallStreet: Searching for Hope in America

Allison Kilkenny

Adbusters, the non-profit, anti-consumerist organization, made the first call for an occupation of Wall Street back in July when they posted an article on their website titled, “#OCCUPYWALLSTREET.” The rallying cry proposed a massive occupation of Wall Street – some 20,000 individuals – a “fusion of Tahrir with the acampadas of Spain.” The group declared: “It’s time for DEMOCRACY NOT CORPORATOCRACY."

Adbusters latched on to the idea of an American Tahrir, also adopting the concept of new media protest at the genesis of the movement, even opting to include Twitter’s now famous hashtag in its branding campaign.

Two months later, the protest came to fruition. A hallmark of leftist activism is the amalgam of diverse movements present at protests. Alexa O’Brien, a spokesperson for US Day of Rage, one of the groups participating in the protest, says they are focused on reinforcing the first amendment: the rights to peaceably assemble and to free speech on public sidewalks.

Other protesters carried signs in solidarity with Troy Davis, while another group, The Platypus Affiliated Society, explained it’s an educational group focused on problems and tasks inherited from the old Left. But all parties agreed that Wall Street, and particularly the class divide, are bad for America.

“Corporate greed is bankrupting America,” says Chris Priest, a representative from US Uncut. “Wall Street is the pinnacle of corporate greed that bankrupted the country, and is imposing severe cuts on the middle- and working-class. They’ve seen no consequence for the financial depression they caused.”

A protester named Larry says that he joined the movement to protest the pitiful conditions of workers, particularly black and Hispanic employees. He fears the budget cutbacks will disproportionately affect the poor majority. “Wall Street makes its money off of exploitation,” he says. “We’ve sacrificed enough. That’s how they’ve got their billions.”

Spurring a Tahrir or Spanish revolution was an incredibly lofty goal, and all told, about a thousand protesters made it down to Wall Street. It seems some element –some unseen ingredient—is missing from America’s climate to spur the great cultural revolution seen in the Arab world. Of course, everyone has a different diagnosis for why the anti-establishment mass protests haven’t hit America’s shores yet.

Austin Mackell, an independent journalist stationed in Egypt, explains that the Arab Spring was a mixture of urban youth and traditional industrial activism. “Many credit the general strike that took place in the last few days before Mubarak’s ouster as critical in amping up the pressure on him.” Basically, he explains, a country needs the newer, sexier image of a young revolution, but it also needs the basic tools of organized, older labor to keep things focused.

Mia Foster says she was curious to check out the Wall Street protest because she was present at the ongoing massive Spanish protests that began in May. RTVE, the Spanish public broadcasting company, estimates that between 6.5 and 8 million Spaniards have participated in the protests thus far. Often compared to the Arab Spring, the Spanish protests demanded radical changes in Spanish politics, and are being waged in response to high unemployment, welfare cuts, Capitalism, and what is perceived as a two-party political duopoly. 

“It was organized through Facebook. Then the people decided to stay in [Puerta del Sol] square. We were inspired by the Arab Spring,” she says. “We want real democracy now. It’s a very radical demand. Eighty percent of the population supported the protests, even the right wing. We have worse labor conditions, we don’t have access to houses, and we have twenty percent unemployment.” Incredibly, 125 days later, the protests and occupations in Spain are ongoing.

Of course, Occupy Wall Street didn’t live up to the legacy of Tahrir or Spain. Mia glances around the square where a group of protesters have now gathered to do some yoga and half-heartedly smiles, “I am sure in Spain there are more people in solidarity with this action than are here.”

Matthew Prowless says he doesn’t mind the mixture of causes and affectations –what he calls “window-dressing”– for a far more serious cause. Unlike the majority of the college-aged activists, Matthew is a 40-year-old father of two who says he is attending the protest because he had no other recourse.

“My home has been seized, I’m unemployed, there’s no job prospects on the horizon. I have two children and I don’t see a future for them. This is the only way I see to effect change,” he says. “This isn’t a Progressive issue. This is an American issue. We’re here to take our country back from the corporations,” adding he fears for the future of the United States where corporations can now spend unlimited, anonymous dollars to elect the candidates of their choices.

As for activist yoga, Matthew laughs, saying he likes it. “I’m not here to change every aspect of the world. I’m just here to change the most important part of the world, and that’s elections. The yoga people bring attention to it, and they support our cause.”

Of course, it’s become a cliché to pine for an American Tahrir. Nowhere is it written that a revolution must follow a specific formula in order to be effective. Perhaps America’s revolution won’t happen with a bang as it did in the case of the Arab Spring. It might have already arrived in the form of a gradual drip that began in Wisconsin, and then Ohio, and will arrive tomorrow as a flood in 48 other states.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

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