I want to be clear from the start, I do not profess to speak for the occupy movements. In my visits to both Occupy Wall Street and Occupy LA I played the role of participant/observer. I went to listen and learn—not to speak and be heard—and in my role as a student, my education was vast and profound. What follows are my thoughts on what I experienced.
To me, the occupy movements sweeping this nation represent the American version of the protests in Africa and the Arab world, collectively known as the Arab Spring. Many of us watched those historic uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and Bahrain and wondered if and when such a mass movement could ever be possible in America. The occupy movements occurring nationwide have answered such wonderment with a resounding “Yes,” and an emphatic “Now.”
While headed to my first protest, Occupy Wall Street, I wondered whom I would encounter? If I believed the sparse and antagonistic coverage by some of the media outlets out there, the only ones protesting were “hippies,” beatniks, uninformed youth and other fringe elements of society. While those elements can often be found at any large movement, when walking through the crowd at Occupy Wall Street I saw a cross-section of America. There were Blacks, Whites, young, old, employed, unemployed, democrats, republicans and representatives of various religious and ideological persuasions. There were even visits and showings of support by some who worked on Wall Street. It became clear that, despite attempts by some traditional media outlets to discredit the movement, Occupy Wall Street was a serious movement of and for the average American.
Some have argued that a major drawback of the occupy movement is the lack of official goals or demands. In my conversations with participants, I found a vast array of issues being protested, but even in the diversity of issues there was a common theme: the rich and powerful have unfairly eroded our rights, wrecked our economy and “foreclosed on our future.”
- Some were there protesting the fact that the average CEO pay rate is nearly 350 times more than the pay of average employees.
- Some were protesting the ongoing erosion of civil liberties.
- Some were protesting the fact that, between 1979 and 2007, household incomes of the wealthiest Americans tripled, while the household incomes of average Americans stagnated and fell.
- Some were protesting the rising threats to privacy and the ubiquitous nature of the U.S. surveillance state.
- Some were protesting the fact that, despite earning billions in profits and receiving billions in bailouts, 30 major U.S. corporations paid no income taxes for the last three years and another 280 corporations paid very little in taxes.
- Still, others were protesting the debilitating fiscal austerity measures being implemented in an increasing number of states.
In truth, there were as many issues being protested as there were protesters, but I soon realized that all of the issues voiced were relevant and NEEDED to be heard. But, to the critics I have a question(s); how does one put all of those valid concerns into a single document? How are all of those relevant issues crafted into cogent and well-argued talking points? Why would a movement based (in part) on expressing discontent with our corrupt political process be expected to draft legislation to send through that same corrupt process? Ultimately, the lack of an official set of demands reflects the long process of wading through the numerous issues plaguing this country. As a result, the current lack of demands highlights the failings of our society rather than the failings of the occupy movements.