The stereotype may exist for some that Canada is merely a poor-man’s America, so when a Vancouver-based activist magazine raised the idea of protesting against corporate influence on democracy, not many took note. Drawing inspiration from the Arab Spring movements of 2011, the anti-consumerist publication Adbusters called for a peaceful protest in Zuccotti Park, in the downtown financial district of NYC.
According to Jonathan Field, Tharunka reporter in NYC, the protest has several evolving aims that fundamentally revolve around the current state of social and economic inequality in the USA, and particularly at a local level, NYC, where the disparity of wealth is extreme. Recent statistics showed, in Manhattan, the top twenty percent of earners made thirty-eight times as much as the bottom eighty percent.
Tharunka spoke with Jonathan Field earlier in the week. “People are here from everywhere. I’ve met people from almost every state of the USA, of all ages, races and creeds. Even the tourist buses that pass downtown Broadway on their ordinary sightseeing route have made impromptu stops at the protests. It’s become the latest attraction in the city, the subject of as much finger pointing and camera flashing as the Empire State Building, The Statue of Liberty, or Freedom Tower,” he said.
It was surprising to see most media sources ignoring what are the largest protest of its kind this decade, and it was not until London’s Guardian newspaper began devoting several pages of coverage that the US media decided it was newsworthy. A few days ago, the New York Times began a campaign to recruit Occupy Wall Street activists as on-the-ground reporters, just as a slew of celebrities joined the protest, now in it’s fourth week.
As the protests spread in the last weeks, a steady list of commentators hit back at what they see as an unproductive and disorganised protest movement. NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg accused the protesters of trying to destroy obs in the city, although he acknowledged his sympathy to some of the complaints. President Barack Obama and the Vice-President Joe Biden both acknowledged the frustration of voters,
These complaints were many, according to the protesters, but were sparked by concerns about the Wall Street bailout in 2008, whilst average Americans dealt with high unemployment and job insecurity alone, without help from a political system many view as corrupt, or at the least, ineffective.
According to Jonathan Field, there are technically no list of demands, despite the protests not showing any signs of dissipating. “Occupy Wall Street clearly states they are not a political institution. People are just angry. I’ve met people who have tens of thousands of dollars in tertiary education debt, and no prosperous job offers. They’ve applied for hundreds of jobs, without even an interview.”
Some protesters spoke of applying for over one hundred and fifty jobs for which they were qualified and experienced for, and receiving only one interview, which they didn’t get. That job paid $7.25 an hour, 12 hours a week, a paycheck Field says is difficult to live on in NYC “People are living paycheck to paycheck. They just want to express how unfair and unjust this situation is for the majority. The most commonly shared complaint by the Wall St. protesters is how the 1% have destroyed the opportunities of the 99%,” he said.
The activists march around the Financial District, with the NYPD forced to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in overtime to officers who are not allowed to accept coffee or donuts from the camp kitchen. Instead the officers play Words with Friends on their smartphones, take photos and put them on Facebook and Twitter and talk with the protesters. Many of the Occupy Wall Street protesters say it’s obvious the officers side with them.
However, the situation is still tense, although less so than last week, when seven hundred protesters were arrested after marching across the Brooklyn Bridge. After a police officer warned protesters to cross at the pedestrian walkways and not the roadway, hundreds of activists began chanting ‘take the bridge’ before swarming the bridge. The activist now say police didn’t warn them but tricked them by allowing them onto the roadway, only to trap them in orange netting. Paul J. Browne, spokesperson for the police told the media that warnings were issued, and threatened to release video footage shot by the police to show just that. Whilst the New York Times reported that police regularly tape the protests, it has been the protesters that have used technology, including posting hundreds of videos to YouTube, to support their claim of police brutality.
In the last few weeks, the protests have spread across America, and the movement is set to come to Australia. In New York, Jonathan Field said people had come spontaneously. “People come from all over to join. I’ve had people from Canada asking if they can stay at my house. They’ve come for the weekend just to join the protest.” Zuccotti Park, according to Field, has been turned into a long-term base. “There are thousands of cameras, microphones, Macbook Pros. The whole event is being documented 24/7. They’re going to be there for a while. A media center, a library, a sleeping area, a kitchen.”
Recently, a Facebook event started organising ‘Occupy Sydney’, to be held on October 15 in Martin Place, home of the Reserve Bank. A statement on their website said the group wanted “bank reform, putting people before banks and society before economy, in solidarity with occupytogether.org, Occupy Wall St Australian people, and the 99%ers.”