Occupy movement unites diverse participants with common goals

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    Occupy Congress

    AP Photo


    (Mint Press)—Every generation needs a new revolution. Wise words – courtesy of Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers of America. If you’re wondering if Jefferson was right or not – just take a look at what’s going on with the Occupy movement in the U.S. right now.

     The movement was born in September of 2011, when protesters, backed by the Canadian activist group Adbusters, took the the streets of New York, descending on Zucotti Park, in the heart of the Wall Street financial district. Broadly speaking, the protests are against social  and economic inequality, high unemployment, greed, corruption – and a whole host of other societal ills.

     

    Criticism of the movement

    Despite these unifying ideals, Occupy movements have received some sharp criticism – from both the right and the left – regarding goals, cohesion, leadership and some have even charged that a perceived lack of racial diversity amongst Occupy participants fractures the movement’s credibility.

    A recent  Gallup poll revealed that the American public isn’t very familiar with the movement or its goals. While the survey also notes that part of that may stem from the below-average level of attention Americans are paying to the news stories about the movement, about 56 percent of those surveyed say they are following the story closely, including 18 percent who say very closely. About 22 percent of respondents said they approve of the movements goals, while 15 percent disapprove, and 63 percent said they didn’t know enough about the goals of the movement to decide one way or the other.

    While many of the problems the movements has pointed out have political overtones, the group is resisting being seen in a purely political light. In a talk given at a Texas gathering of Occupiers which was broadcast on OccupyUSA , independent journalist and co-founder of the Occupied Wall Street Journal Arun Gupta says that the movement doesn’t want to align itself with a political party. “They don’t want to get sucked into a political party…they want to influence from the outside,” Gupta notes, adding that there are many diverse issues that are bringing people to the movement, and placing the movement in the same box as a particular political ideology could work against its goal to draw as many people to the movement as possible.

    The structureless structure of the movement is actually something which could work in its favor – at least acccording to University of Texas, Austin School of Journalism professor Robert Jensen, who in an opinion piece published on Al Jazeera’s website argues,  “The demand for demands is an attempt to shoehorn the Occupy gatherings into conventional politics, to force the energy of these gatherings into a form that people in power recognise, so that they can roll out strategies to divert, co-opt, buy off, or – if those tactics fail – squash any challenge to business as usual.”

    Jensen concludes that the movement marks a new era in civic engagement, writing

    “Rejecting the political babble around us in election campaigns and on mass media, these gatherings are an experiment in a different kind of public dialogue about our common life, one that can reject the forces of terror deployed by concentrated wealth and power.”

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    Common causes

    So, what are the issues uniting the protesters? In a broadcast streaming on CNN’s website, Gupta discusses a variety of the issues bringing those involved with the protest together which are being voiced currently.

    “We can talk about green jobs, we can talk about socialized medicine, we can talk about large industry should be made not for profit, reduce the comidified nature of society, we need to get money out of politics completely, we need to have the air waves be in the public interest  again, and not being privatized by corporations, we need alternative energy  systems that address climate change,we need food systems that people control, we need educational systems that actually nurture our minds, our critical thinking…there are a lot of fundamental changes that we need in this society, in fact that we need throughout the world …”

    Gupta believes the changes have to be far reaching, and are not just related to economic measures. “We need a new type of society we need a new way of relating to each other,” he said.

    For Gupta, the rallying points for the protesters are symptoms of a larger problem, which he describes as “the economic system has broken down in this country…we need deep reaching changes and they need to come from the bottom up.”

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    How the Occupy movement operates

    But not everyone is convinced that Occupy can create lasting change. Robert Bulman, a professor of sociology at Saint Mary’s College, in Moraga, who has studied how protest movements develop in America believes that the strategy the movement employs may be a barrier to the publics comprehension of the movements’ goals, telling one source, “One reason the Occupy movement seems so amorphous is because it is trying to be as inclusive as possible. The benefit is that everyone feels a part; the downside is that it’s hard to present a focused public face.”
    While the Occupiers have no mission statement, official spokesperson or creed of overall consensus of their goals, one blogger watching the movement points out, “Since Occupy believes in a leaderless consensus building approach, nobody speaks for Occupy Wall Street, but we can see the beliefs and goals in the signs, in the general assemblies, websites and in personal conversations.”
    Education and consciousness raising seem to be part of the movement’s mission as well. A YouTube video entitled “What is Occupy Wall Street All About?” presents some statistics about the economic terrain of America that many people may not know: about 66 percent of Americans make less than $40,000 per year, while .05 percent of Americans earn more than one million dollars per year. Compare that with another statistic presented in the video indicating the 19 percent of American think that they are within the top one percent of earners.
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    Race and the movement

    The issue of race and the movement is also one currently being discussed, as some have been critical of the predominantly White racial make-up of Occupy protesters. A recent study from OccupyWallStreet.org on the racial make-up of the U.S. protesters found that most are White, 81.2 percent while  7.6 percent identified as Other. Another  6.8 percent are Hispanic, 2.8 percent identify as Asian, and 1.6 percent of those surveyed are Black.

    However, no matter what their race, those aligned with the goals of the movement seem to be claiming their own space within it. Occupy the Hood was started by  Malik Rhassan and Ife Johari Uhuru, black activists from Queens, New York, and Detroit, respectively. Their aim is to encourage and make space for people of color to join the movement.

    Rhassan recently told the Huffington Post “The Black people I know have a practice: When we see each other in public places, we give each other a nod, just a polite, silent ‘hello, what up, I see you. The first time I went down to the Occupy Wall Street thing in Zuccotti Park, I tell you, there was no head-nodding. There were no black people at all.”

    And Uhru stressed that , “This is not a break-off movement. It is not a competition”. Uhru said that what drew her to the movement overall are concerns affecting her community. She was distressed to learn that Wall Street firms, such as JPMorgan Chase, make money administering access to food stamp, welfare and Women Infants and Children program benefits, in addition to unemployment and child support payments in the U.S. Occupy the Hood now lists over 20 chapters across the U.S. on its website.

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    At the heart of the movement

    Gupta spoke about a “tremendous suffering” being experienced by people at the hands of corporations, as a catalyst for the movement.

    A similar sentiment is echoed in the  Declaration of the Occupation of New York City, a document found on the website for the New York City General Assembly, which describes itself as a body comprised of dozens of groups working together to set the vision for the movement.

    The declaration reads As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments.”

    The document further articulates a desire to allow those with concerns about social problems an avenue for peaceful assembly in public space, and a process to address their pressing concerns. As Gupta articulates, “We live in a soul sucking society where the highest thing we have to aspire to is to be consumers…that’s why this is going on on Wall Street”.



    Video From The Occupied Wall Street Journal


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