For over 18 days, a peaceful protest has been brewing on Wall Street in New York, N.Y. It has grown from a small 300 person protest to a powerful movement numbering in the thousands, and shows no sign of stopping. It hasn’t been covered extensively by American mainstream media, and when it has it has mainly been dismissed as a bizarre fringe movement without goals or purpose.
The protest has been named Occupy Wall Street, and at the heart of the movement is a very simple message. It is a message of frustration, a message of exhaustion with the status quo. People have become sick and tired of, to put it simply, the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. Taking into account that according to a 2001 survey run by Peter Phillips, over 95 percent of all wealth in the United States is controlled by 30 percent of its population and over 38 percent is controlled by just the top 1 percent, it’s not difficult to see why.
In “Meet The Nation” I have discussed before the reasons behind the shrinking of the middle class and the weakening of our economic structure. Both our change from an exportation economy into an importation economy and our continual lowering of taxes on the top tax bracket has put us where we are today. It’s immensely refreshing to see a movement that recognizes this and attempts to change it.
The unadulterated greed of modern day American CEOs is incredible, especially when compared to those in other areas of the world. According to an investigative report by CBS news’ Barry Petersen, Haruka Nishimatsu, CEO of one of the world’s top ten international airlines, Japan Air, has had his pay reduced to the equivalent of $90,000. This is less than his pilots make. It was done in solidarity with the rest of his employees. When told that American CEOs often makes tens of millions and in some cases close to two hundred million a year, he simply shook his head in disbelief.
The past few years, Americans have been becoming more and more frustrated with the inequities inherent within our political and economic system. Some of this was seen when the Tea Party movement was formed, but many saw the Tea Party as nothing more than a corporate sponsored attempt at misdirection.
Now, at long last, all of the frustrations of the past few years have reached a boiling point for many and the Occupy Wall Street protests are the first true sign that people refuse to stay quiet.
At the group’s website occupywallstreet.org, there is a simple quote summing up their frustration:
“We are the 99 percent. We are getting kicked out of our homes. We are forced to choose between groceries and rent. We are denied quality medical care. We are suffering from environmental pollution. We are working long hours for little pay and no rights, if we’re working at all. We are getting nothing while the other 1 percent is getting everything. We are the 99 percent.”
For over a week there was almost a total media blackout concerning the protests. Until two weeks ago, when police officers separated a small group of women from the main body of the protesters and pepper-sprayed them without provocation under the orders of Inspector Anthony Bologna. This sort of treatment is nothing new to those protesting, though. According to the New York Times, just last week over 700 protesters were motioned onto a bridge by police officers before being corralled off and arrested.
It is of course necessary to remember that these situations are never black and white. Many protest videos claiming to show police attacking protesters without provocation have been somewhat edited, one video in particular of an officer arresting a seemingly innocent woman had a crucial section removed where the woman begins throwing rocks at the officer. Many of the arrests are with reason and for every officer that does do something terrible like Bologna there are many more who are simply doing their job.
The occupation on Wall Street is now generating national ripples. Protests are growing coast to coast, from New York to Los Angeles. It’s happened abroad, but America is now experiencing the new model of mass unrest: actions coordinated on mobile devices and national media replaced by social media. The result is the first honest grassroots protest movement in decades.
Many larger organizations have dedicated their support to the protests, including various unions as well as the ice cream manufacturer Ben and Jerry’s. As stated on their official website, Ben and Jerry’s has long been a force within the labor movement, even implementing a policy that no employee’s rate of pay shall exceed seven times that of entry-level employees until the mid-90s.
There is no celebrity power. There are no stacks of pre-printed signs or banners. There is no sound stage, no sleek production value. Nobody is trying to sell you something. This movement doesn’t want your vote, they don’t want your money, they don’t want your Nielsen ratings.
That is why people are protesting. It’s not to have demands met. It might turn into that, but not yet. Right now, the point is to remind you that you can do something.
Do something; join a protest, talk to your friends, mail your senator. Or if you can, write an article about it. Every little bit helps.