Curious about the current issues of the Occupy movement? Check out this article in The Stranger to learn about the repercussions of the May Day protests in Seattle.
The easiest way for me to define OWS is really difficult to define. It seems that every part of the definition I think up comes with about a thousand stipulations: do we look at OWS as part of a global protest or do we limit it to groups that claim the title “occupy,” do we measure its successes by policy changes or by the movement’s spread across borders? There are a few things everyone seems to agree on:
It didn’t start with Zuccotti Park. OWS is part of a larger global protest or protest movement that represents the frustrations of the underprivileged many in regards to the privileged and powerful few – bankers, dictator-like leaders, whoever. Think of my Shepard Fairey post Part 3
The global movement and OWS use new media and social media tools to spread the movement.Another post on our blog compares its global spread to that of the anti-globalization movements in the 90′s. The 2011 movement of anti-capitalism (a feature of OWS according to this post and many OWS protesters) has an ally in the internet and social media that wasn’t so prevalent in the 90s.
In fact, Time‘s Person of the Year article claimed that these movements have partly redefined the terms “globalized” and “viral.” They say that globalized no longer simply means economy, it can also mean this globalized movement and globalized feeling; and viral is no loner cute videos of pets or people doing embarrassing things, it can be a protest or a plan or a news story. Richin’s hyperphotography shows that OWS and the global movement have the internet’s cubist linking ability to thank for some of its successes. (Richin) See practically all of the Shepard Fairey posts, but most notably Part 2.
Part of this “viral” protest makes OWS into a kind of social meme. Celebrities follow it. Through their endorsement, their fans may join the cause or at least learn about it through “weak ties” as discussed in “Unreciprocated Ties.” “Occupy” is an advertising scheme too – this Tide advertisement copies the “99%” meme.
And, many of us have seen the pepper spraying cop, who has an entire tumblr dedicated to him. In a post about this, and other images from the OWS movement, J Hallward talks about a comparison between the pepper-spraying event at UC Davis and the Kent State Massacre images. Though, obviously, the Kent State Massacre was a much more serious incident, the blog post does bring up another point about OWS.
It isn’t a new occurrence. Yes, OWS, the Arab Spring, Tunisia, and Moscow are recent events. These types of protests, however, are not. The Times notes the phenomenon of protest history.
Ever since modern republican democracy was invented, astonishing protests and uprisings have spiked and spread once every half-century or so… It happens almost like clockwork, yet each time people are freshly shocked and bamboozled. (Abouizeid 89)
The article mentions the American, French and Haitian revolutions of 1848, various revolutions in 1910, and of course, the 60s. And they had art too:
So, what is Occupy Wall Street anyways?
It is a part of a movement that shows the frustration of the “common man” against the people who supposedly have the power, like so many that came before it. But, due to the proliferation of internet usage and social media, the movement has gone global in new way. Its images, ideas, and messages have gone viral.
After looking at my previous posts and at the other posts on this blog, I have come to the conclusion that Occupy Wall Street is a protest. However, the question now is what type of protest is it, and how does it compare to past protests? According to the post Types of Protests by Kara, which is a more in depth analysis of the brief post I made containing definitions of protest, revolution, and demonstration, OWS includes aspects of both Passive and Direct action. OWS has included in its actions the displaying of signs, distribution of flyers, petitions, and passive picketing, as well as a more direct approach, such as occupations, lock-downs, disruptive picketing, demonstrations, boycotts, sit-ins, and strikes. Basically, whatever is considered part of a protest, OWS has done it. However, how does OWS compare to past protests, like the Vietnam War Protests? Did it start out the same, and what was the end result of the Vietnam protests? When the Vietnam War started in 1964, the venture was sold as very patriotic, and thus, not many people protested. After nearly 20 years in the Cold War, the American government used the logic that if America did not intervene, then what was going on in Vietnam would spread, according to the Domino Theory. While at first this seemed to appease the American public, it eventually started to lose favor with the increase of the draft. The draft increase particularly affected the working class and the poor, since they did not have the means to dodge the draft. Burning the draft papers became one of the first forms of direct action. The second round of protest increases started when the dead soldier count increased in Vietnam. The war had promised victory, but instead was taking many young lives. In fact, one line used by name protesters was “Hey! Hey! LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?” This line was shouted after it was found out that the US government had sanctioned the killing of innocent people in Vietnam. As the years went on, the Vietnam protests grew larger and larger, eventually leading to rallies in New York City and Washington DC. The veterans threw their medals and ribbons away in a demonstration that shocked many people, making them think that “ those who had worn the uniform of the US military had come to think that the only way ahead was to discard the very things that had been issued to them to represent their bravery” (History Learning Site). At the height of the war, the hippy movement preached peace and love (not war), and many young people wanted to drop out of society. Both of these went against the concept of doing the right thing for your country. The US media definitely played into this, since they were able to bring the war right into people’s homes. The media was able to portray the war for what it actually was, which led to even more opposition against the US government. The Kent State University incident in 1970 is a good example of a peaceful protest that turns violent in a flash. The students at the university burned down one of the buildings on campus, which caused the National Guardsmen to come in with rifles to try to subdue the demonstration, however, things got out of hand quick, with four students being killed at at least ten wounded by gunfire. With the news of political assassinations, indiscriminate bombings, and drug trafficking in Vietnam, the American public viewed the American government to have lost all accountability (Mark Barringer). The antiwar protests had become institutionalized, and eventually led to President Nixon ending US involvement in Vietnam in 1973. So after this long, brief history of the Vietnam protests, how does OWS compare (or contrast)? According to the post made recently by Savannah, Occupy Proposes a “Real Democracy”, OWS is about the fight for representation. The question she poses is more along the lines of whether OWS wants to change the government, or just change the way we are represented by our congressmen and senators. From what I can tell, OWS seems to be heading toward neither. According former Clinton pollster Dough Schoen, OWS “reflects values that are dangerously out of touch with the broad mass of the American people.” He added that the protesters “are bound by a deep commitment to radical left-wing policies” and comprise “an unrepresentative segment of the electorate that believes in radical redistribution of wealth, civil disobedience and, in some instances, violence” (Greg Sargent). However, Schoen’s poll reflects none of his claims. It finds that only 6% of the population say that income inequality frustrates them about the political system of the US, while 35% want the OWS movement to emulate the effect that the Tea Party had on the GOP, and apply the same effect to the Democratic Party now. The poll also finds that less than a third of the population wants the protest to become violent. Schoen’s poll, instead of following Schoen’s radical claims, instead follows suit more with the thought that OWS is leaning more toward being a protest that focuses more on passive action rather than direct action. While there have been reports of police brutality in the OWS movement, I think that, in line with the poll, OWS is heading toward a change in the way the US population is represented, with use of passive action more than direct action. I do not think that Americans, for the most part, want to overthrow the government, but would rather see a change within the government by transforming “the interests of the politicians from big business to their constituents” (Savannah Edwards). While the Vietnam protests also included passive action, I think that OWS is going in another direction from that form of protest because, ultimately, it wants a different outcome. The Vietnam protests, while wanting to pull US troops out of Vietnam, were different from OWS, since the OWS wants to change representation rather than pull us out of a war (which, by the way, only got 8% of the vote on Schoen’s poll). While US involvement in Afghanistan is a big deal, OWS would rather focus on more domestic issues, which is why I think that the movement will lean more toward passive action and trying to change the way the US population is represented in domestic politics.
While researching OWS for the blog posts, it has been difficult for my classmates and me to find any concrete demands from OWS, or what they really stand for. There has been many assumptions made by the media and onlookers pertaining to the “demands” of OWS, while in reality, the movement has made minimal, official demands. This lack of official demands has been a major and central critique of the OWS. After much scrutiny by the media, OWS finally released a list of demands (that can be seen here on their website), but even then it was in the form of a declaration. Finally, after over a month of protesting, a list of demands was turned over to the media. The media then proceeded to scrutinize the list (which will critiqued in a different post). In a previous post, I discussed how OWS is an example of direct action. To recap, direct action is unlike passive protesting because it does not appeal to the system, but defies it. OWS demonstrated direct action by their occupations, demonstrations, and even today’s strike, across the country. What the media, and most of America, misunderstood is that a list of demands is not part of the direct action process. The central idea of direct action is to act as if the current system has no power. By giving the system of a list of demands, it would only solidify the system’s power and it would make the protest an appeal- no longer make it direct action. So even if not having demands is a perceived weakness of the movement, it actually made the movement a true demonstration of direct action by denying the current system. So, in the spirit of direct action, Don’t Fight the Power, Deny it!