Tag Archives: Finland

What is Occupy Wall Street? Global and Flexible!

What is Occupy Wall Street? Such an abstract question would seem difficult to answer — no broadly accepted standard definition exists, not even within the movement itself. Nevertheless, we can arrive at an answer to this question by examining some prominent characteristics of this movement. Occupy Wall Street is a broad platform used by individuals or groups of people as a means of raising awareness of their grievances. However, these grievances differ across nations, and even across regions within the same country.

OWS is a global movement, the most widespread in modern history, with locations in 951 cities in 82 countries. Although Samuel Huntington’s “civilisations” theory is deeply flawed in an academic sense, it is useful to us in our attempt to see the extent of the popularity of OWS. According to Huntington’s theory, the world is divided into nine “civilisations” — geographic areas which share the same general culture, ethnicity and values. The civilisations are as follows: 1. Western (most of Europe, Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand), 2. Orthodox (Russia and the Slavic nations of Eastern Europe), 3. Islamic (the Maghreb, the Middle East, Central Asia and some parts of South Asia), 4. African (African nations not included in the Maghreb), 5. Latin American (Mexico, Central America and South America), 6. Sinic (China and parts of Southeast Asia), 7. Hindu (parts of India, Nepal and Bangladesh), 8. Buddhist (Mongolia, parts of China and Southeast Asia), and 9. Japanese (Japan).

Huntington's civilisations

Map of Huntington’s civilisations

OWS protests have been reported in each of Huntington’s nine civilisations, even in countries like China and Russia which are known to be politically repressive and which have responded violently to peaceful protests in the past. Some of these protestors are “occupying” despite a real possibility of mistreatment or physical harm from their governments. Clearly, there is something about OWS which is motivating people all over the world to join in. This far-reaching appeal speaks to the movement’s status as a broad platform for the airing of various grievances. All these people throughout the world are not agitating against the same set of perceived ills, they each have their own grievances which they would like to make known. Indeed, in its current state, the movement as a whole can hardly be referred to or thought of as merely “Occupy Wall Street” — this term suggests a too-narrow set of goals and ideals. When discussing the movement in general, it is more appropriate to use the broader term “Occupy,” in order to better reflect its status as a sort of springboard for countless divergent agendas.

Map of OWS protests

Occupy Wall Street protests across the globe

At its inception (when “Occupy” was still confined to Wall Street), OWS was a movement against economic inequality. For many of the original protestors, this problem lay at the root of many other issues, such as government corruption. As Occupy spread nationally and internationally, its functions and purposes were adapted by the newcomers to better reflect their desires.

In some countries, the broad ideas evinced by the original OWS protestors are preserved, but some aspects of Occupy are tailored to address issues more specific to that country. This trend is especially evident in European Union nations, who merged Occupy with a local movement known as “Indignados” (the indignants). Europeans were “indignant” over the same general issues which had enflamed the protestors at Zucotti Park, and they took to the streets to oppose government bailout for banks and the luxuries enjoyed by elites at the expense of the common people. In Slovenia, the movement earned the nickname “Za več svobode,” meaning “for more freedom.” The EU protests shared the New York protestors’ desire for a more egalitarian society, feeling that a reduction of economic inequality would reduce government corruption and therefore allow for a more free society. However, European Occupiers also spoke against the austerity measures being enacted by their debt-ridden governments. Austerity was not an issue commonly mentioned by New York City occupiers, since the American government has not enacted any such measures. Therefore, EU Occupiers added this EU-specific issue to the Occupy movement. Thus, Occupy protests in the EU exhibited both broad themes and region-specific themes, which illustrate the adaptability of the Occupy platform.

Indignados protestors in Spain

Indignados protestors marching against austerity measures in Spain

In other countries, Occupy is being used as a means to show solidarity for those suffering economic hardship. This is especially true in the socialist nations of Scandinavia, where income inequality is low. Thanks to the extremely high taxes of the Nordic Model, citizens of Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland receive many high-quality services from their governments, and all four countries are consistently ranked among the top ten happiest countries in the world by the Legatum Institute. Rather than protesting the conditions in their own countries, several Scandinavians have joined the movement to encourage other countries to adopt the Nordic Model as a solution to their problems of economic inequality.

Solidarity for OWS in Finland

A young man from Finland shows solidarity for the Occupy protestors in the United States

In other countries, Occupy is being used as a vehicle to demand a different sort of change. In Iran, “Occupy Wall Street” protests have been staged to make a political statement against the West itself, not merely against some of its practices. A Reuters video shows protestors burning American and Israeli flags. These protests were ostensibly organised by students, but there has been speculation that they were in fact orchestrated by the government. Whether the Iranian protestors burned those flags on their own volition or under orders from their government, the fact remains that they did this in the name of Occupy Wall Street. Occupy Wall Street is so adaptable that it can be used by virtually any group, for virtually any purpose.

In some areas, Occupy is being used to bring attention to other causes which are not intrinsically related to the movement. In Plymouth, Massachusetts, a one-day event was held to occupy Plymouth Rock in a show of solidarity for Wampanoag indians. This manifestation was a yearly event, and was merely renamed “occupy” in an attempt to raise interest for the event. Here, the “Occupy” name is being adopted without the adoption of any of its original ideas — it is merely being used as a vehicle to increase the status of an unrelated cause.

These widely divergent agendas of Occupy protestors are made possible by the movement’s loose structure. Jenna does an excellent job of describing two perspectives on this. Some people, like founder and CEO of Psych Central John Grohol, Psy. D. would claim the movement is entirely leaderless. For Grohol, the lack of named and recognised leadership stands as an obstacle to Occupy’s ability to achieve any real change. Comparing the movement to the American Revolution, he argues the American independence movement was successful largely due to the founding fathers’ willingness to step forward as publicly-known leaders. Grohol also sees Occupy’s lack of clearly defined objectives further impedes the movement’s success. Grohol does not feel the protestors will get anything accomplished by using the current Occupy methods.

Journalist Nigel Underleider disagrees with Grohol, arguing that Occupy Wall Street does receive a measure of guidance from its nine “key players,” individuals and organisations who hold sway within the movement. Underleider also feels that Occupy has been successful at accomplishing “things,” although he does not give any specifics as to the nature of those “things.”

Ultimately, I believe Occupy has been successful in raising awareness of grievances which had been largely ignored by mainstream society. This consciousness-raising is, after all, what I believe the ultimate function of the movement to be. The movement’s ability to bring public and media attention to grievances so diverse as austerity measures in Europe, anti-American sentiment in Iran and the colonial era abuse of Native Americans in Massachusetts is a function of its loose structure and fluid nature. The movement’s broadness, the attribute which makes it the most difficult to define, is also the attribute which is most important to its adherents. Thanks to that broadness, Occupy can serve as a broad platform from which virtually anyone can raise virtually any issue. That broadness has also helped the movement achieve success in its goals of raising popular awareness. Occupy Wall Street may have gone global, but it was able to do so thanks to its most important characteristic: its flexibility.

As always, I welcome your comments. Thank you for reading my posts!



Why get involved ? Motivations for supporting OWS differ across the globe

As I have discussed in my previous posts, Occupy Wall Street is a global social movement of unprecedented size. The movement is also noteworthy for its refusal to articulate demands which would be seen as the goals of every participant in the movement. In the early stages of the movement, a “Demands” group working from Manhattan attempted to devise a specific proposal on behalf of OWS demanding the ending of all wars and heavier taxation on the wealthy in order to implement a New-Deal style programme which would create 25 million government jobs. However, this proposal met with stringent opposition from other segments of the movement. In response, other OWS members worked together online to create the Liberty Square Blueprint, a document discouraging the formation of goals and outlining a very broad “vision” of what the OWS movement hoped to accomplish. An excerpt from the document reads, “Demands cannot reflect inevitable success. Demands imply condition, and we will never stop.” In other words, since demands cannot adequately convey the magnitude of the social revolution OWS hopes to effectuate, they are not appropriate for the movement. Those opposed to goals see the enumeration of concrete aims as a threat which would limit the scope and effectiveness of the mocement. Furthermore, the task of setting goals for the movement is complicated by its decentralised nature. A Zucotti Park occupier known as Ketchup explained, “If anyone is attempting to speak for OWS, that’s bullshit” (Harkinson).

Since the movement lacks a clearly defined ideology, reasons for joining may differ between individual protestors. This is especially true when we consider the movement’s spread to other countries. Internationally, OWS has been used in a variety of ways, most of which are different from its original use in Manhattan’s Zucotti Park.

Some individuals, notably EU residents, have used the movement to protest inequality and economic woes in their own countries. Faced with government spending cuts and austerity measures, many of these protestors are being adversely affected by the current economic situation. Others, such as the Iranian protestors, have used the movement as a means of drawing attention to their anti-western stance. Still others have joined the movement, not because they are discontented with their personal economic standing, but as a means of showing solidarity with citizens of other countries whom they perceive to be unjustly suffering.

On its Facebook page, “Occupy Events” has posted several images of individuals affiliated with the  OWS movement. Several of these photographs show an individual holding a piece of paper which describes his or her grievances and support of the movement. Most messages are signed with “I am the 99%.” One of these, written by a young man from Finland who feels “sad” for Americans, is below:

OWS Finland

I am a 21 year-old student from Finland. It makes me sad to hear how Americans are suffering.

Here, our taxes are high but we all benefit from them.

I grew up in the countryside and always had access to the same services that people in the city did.

My university is known around the world in my field and my education is not only free, but my government pays ME [sic] to go to university. Everyone has a right to this.

Everyone has a right to the best healthcare, there is no such thing as health insurance.

I am young now and able to take risks and pursue my passion because I will never have to worry about starving if I loose [sic] my job or my business fails. I know that when I am old my state pension will be there for me so that I can enjoy my retirement.

We call this the Nordic Model, and under it we live well and our businesses are among the most competitive in the world. I am grateful to have been born a citizen of a country that cares for its people, and I hope that one day the USA will take an example from us.

I am the 99%

According to his message, this young man is not personally experiencing any economic hardship. He is pleased with his quality of life, and with life in general in his country. He appears to view the government as a competent, even a benevolent, entity in which he has great confidence. Rather than demanding that another model be adopted in his country, this man recommends that his country’s model be adopted by the United States.

The language used by this OWS sympathiser is one of universal rights. Speaking of education and healthcare, he writes “everyone has a right to this.” He also emphasises the economic and social equality among residents of Finland, explaining that access to social services is the same for all the country’s residents. For this man, Finland’s Nordic Model is beneficial to all its citizens; he writes “we all benefit from them” of his country’s high taxes and “under it we live well” of the Nordic Model. Furthermore, he does not see the Nordic Model as beneficial only to Finland. The young man sees Finland’s system as universally viable and expresses a hope that it will spread to other countries.

This agitator represents an interesting by-product of global protest in the age of social networking. He is involved in the movement to show solidarity for a distant group with whom he likely has no direct connection. Such an action is a result of the weak ties which Malcom Gladwell claims are formed between protestors in the modern era (Gladwell). His message is not one of anger or discontentment, but one of pity and support. Although he has no incentive to take to the streets, he is able to share his support of the movement quickly and easily thanks to the internet.

Surprisingly, this young man’s message has met with disapproval, or even derision, from some of the “Occupy Events” page’s fans. Despite some comments mocking the youth and his country, this young man’s message has spread to a global audience, having received 8 653 “likes” and 4 425 “shares.” Additionally, it is important to remember that the movement’s fan page may be being used by individuals who disagree with OWS. Such a trend has already been seen with OWS-related hashtags on twitter.

In the age of globalisation, greater interconnection breeds ties and feelings of solidarity which bridge oceans and continents. Such a phenomenon would have been highly unusual one hundred years ago, when global communication was extremely limited. OWS’s vague platform and use of modern technology allows its message to spread abroad on an unprecedented scale. When the movement progresses overseas, its message may be changed from its original intent. But some OWS protestors, such as Ketchup, may see this as a highly positive occurrence. Whether or not OWS protestors are happy with the uses of their movement seen overseas, they must certainly be pleased with the additional attention which the activities of international protestors being to their cause (whatever that may be).