Tag Archives: Occupy Wall Street

Occupier + current system + social media = ?

20 May 2012: The police crack down pretty hard on the Occupiers in Chicago today during their Anti-NATO protest.

I found this photograph moving around Facebook and I thought I’d post it.  I thought the Occupy protests were winding down, but based on this chaos, I’d say I was quite off the mark.

The focal point of the image is the young man guarding himself against a police officer, as well as on the overwhelmed and scared woman with the camera.  I feel like this image represents three main elements of the entire Occupy movement really well.

The young man represents the generic Occupier: the recent college graduate, possibly a hipster, who feels the need to stand out against the current regime and say that he doesn’t approve of the current status quo.  His hands are up to shield himself against the night stick, but the look on his face isn’t necessarily one of fear.  There is determination there, a confidence that comes out if you stare a little longer at him, and you can see that he isn’t just going to defend himself against the police officer, he is willing to take him on.

The police officer is not only representative of police presence and the issues that have come out of that during Occupy, but the illustration of faulty government itself.  The police are supposed to protect citizens, just as the government is supposed to benefit the people, but clearly the police were not protecting anyone but themselves in Chicago today, and clearly the system is not working for the governed because groups like the Occupiers and the Tea Partiers exist.

Finally, the woman with the camera represents media, more specifically social media.  Before social media took off, people heard about things like this through news articles or segments done by professionals.  Ideally, the news is supposed to be unbiased but it rarely is.  Now, with social media, people who were actually there in the moment can show their own evidence to anyone they want at lightning speed for free.  With these kinds of resources, the moments like this will always be available to the public and the truth will never be forgotten.

The Occupier, the current system and social media. Put them all together and what do you get?  Based on this photo, a real Charlie Foxtrot.



Occupy Wall Street is Nothing Special

But what do they want? – by Tom Tomorrow, Oct 2011

Much has been made of the OWS movement’s apparent lack of leadership and concrete goals, its direct-participation organization and the idea of occupation as a radical act, and its utilization of technology. Based on my own historical research and the research of my colleagues, it appears that in truth, the only unique feature of OWS as a protest movement/mass demonstration is the technology, and this is only because such technology (and the resultant social organization/attitudes) did not exist in the past and so comparisons in that regard are apples-to-oranges. So in response to the question of “What is Occupy Wall Street?” my answer – from a historical perspective – is that it’s, well, nothing special.

Kara, in her post “What is Occupy Wall Street?“, discusses how OWS’s organizational principles are in line with long-established principles of true anarchism: loose organization, consensus-based egalitarian leadership, addressing economic grievances, and raising awareness. In addition, anarchism “seeks to transition the old system into one that fits their needs,” as opposed to a thorough overthrow of the existing system.

Erin has observed that the Great Depression saw similar economic-injustice/class-based protests. Protests on that subject go back to the 1800s with Coxey’s Army marching on Washington, D.C.–then, as now, the protestors were widely perceived as a disorganized mob.

So in this regard, the only radical thing about OWS is the literally radical (root-based) organizational mentality.

Oakland – Indigenous People’s Resistance Day 2011

OWS’s use of the word “occupy” is another radical, original action that the movement is credited with – yet this blog post, by somebody self-identified as unaffiliated with the movement, highlights how OWS has only been employing a superficial sense of the word. To be situated in, to engage, to take possession of. The movement as a whole has not been engaging with the highly problematic history of the word as a key referent to white colonialism and oppression. Sophie Lewis suggests that, since the word is now so entrenched, people should consider actually radicalizing the concepts espoused–in other words, actually pursuing equality for all, rather than reinforcing various forms of oppression such as cissexism and the erasure of people of color. The Albuquerque movement, happily, is one example of an active attempt at true radicalization: it has chosen to call itself “(un)Occupy” to more accurately reflect the goal of decolonizing the 1%. If such cases of true radicalization (e.g. discussion of social privilege) become more widespread and even part of the popular discourse, then OWS could be said to have more of a unique aspect to it.
(Adrienne K. of Native Appropriations also applauds the Denver movement, and her whole post is worth reading in addition to Lewis’s writing.)

With regards to technology and OWS – my comparison of the Kent State shootings and the November, 2011 pepper spraying at UC Davis revealed that, while the internet is more “immediate and personal” than other media, images from the Kent State shootings spread just as rapidly after accounting for the built-in delay of media development. Therefore, it seems unfair to say that OWS is a wholly new form of protest due to the inclusion of instant-communication technology; rather, it is simply a protest of its time, of a society infused with current technology, just as previous protests were products of their technological means. Coxey’s Army did not have television or radio coverage to help speed the dissemination of its message like the social justice and anti-war/nuclear protests of the 1950s-60s; were the mid-20th century protests new forms of protests because they had ham or CB radio available for popular use (cf. twitter) or television to help get their message out to the public faster?

One could argue that there have always been “slacktivists” – people who say they support the cause, but don’t actually get themselves out there to do anything. Is writing letters to the editor, for example, a form of pre-internet slacktivism? Attending the big, publicized protest but not any other events? Wearing a shirt with the anti-nuclear symbol (now known as the peace sign) and leaving it at that? I am skeptical of claims that “Facebook activism” is somehow worse than previous ways of failing to commit to a cause.

In conclusion – OWS is just another protest that may or may not end up being effective the way it intends, like the Alcatraz occupation with which (surprise) OWS shares its current momentum thus far.

Cody VC

Y U No Happy?: Angry Occupiers

An article by Marc Lacey titled “Countless Grievances, One Thread: We’re Angry,” simplifies the reasons behind the gathering of so many for a movement that, for the most part, has not brought about a policy change. According to the Handbook of Motivation and Cognition Vol. 2, positive feelings (i.e. not anger) are a better motivator than negative feelings.

“Peace activists, indigenous rights activists, immigrant activists — they’re all here.” A quote from one an occupier interviewed by Lacey. Those three activists have one “thread” in common, according to Lacey, and it’s anger. “What brings me out here? Outrage — outrage with what’s going on in this country,” said Lucy Horwitz, 79, who participated in Occupy Los Angeles. “Right now, the first issue on my mind is that corporations can buy congressmen.” Bold statements and quick soundbites can get people riled up and moving. “Buy [people]” is basically what the woman was saying and buying people is generally not okay anymore. The thing with that is it is temporary; anger diffuses quickly and interest can be lost just as quickly if there isn’t anything going on to make things better. People who take the incentives are usually very passionate about their cause but nowadays, there is so much to be involved in, it could be easy to get overwhelmed and take a backseat. How do you get people to stay motivated?

The movement has taken several approaches to this and their most successful is the tumblr. They get people to continuously follow what they have to say and arrange meeting places and incentives for coming. Those who show up have a good time and if they get threats to be arrested, it’s even better! Getting arrested means they did something big enough to catch the eyes of authorities. The attention could be a huge motivator for some and also having a purpose or cause to believe in.


Alright… so just what is Occupy Wall Street?

Occupy Wall Street isn’t a new movement, it’s an evolved movement.

Because we have more advanced social media than seen in other movements, the public has been made more aware of violence and aggressive discourse associated within OWS. Savannah Edwards addressed this in her post A Quick Look at the Beginning.Savannahstated “Every time there was an incident of protesters being hurt or dragged, it was caught on tape and videos were going viral online.” In protests of the past, the general public didn’t have the ability to logon to youtube and be bombarded with graphic scenes of violence on the streets ofNew York. Social media has made Occupy Wall Street more personal, and way more real to viewers. Because it’s so visible, individuals have become more invested in the movement. That’s what sets Occupy Wall Street apart from other movements- it’s the most accessible protest we’ve yet seen.

Within my topic, Street Art encompasses performances and artwork not specified in specific venues but existing in the open. Occupy Wall Street’s use of art is similar to other movements. Like Sarah stated within her first post (Story Time: Voiced by the Theorists) on music within in the movement, the use of art creates the feeling of community. But this is no different from other movements in the past, all over the world.

So what sets Occupy Wall Street apart?

A Washington Post article states both the Feminist Movement and the Gay Rights Movement seen in theUnited Stateswere essentially leaderless movements, just likeOccupy Wall Street. Later in the 1990s, anti-globalization protests created a network of movements similar to that seen recently. None of which had any centralized leadership. Occupy Wall Street is a symbol of both the past and future. It’s also representative of a move towards the idea that no singular issue takes precedent over another. This is one of the reasons why the movement has benefited from encompassing so many different forms of media and methods of resistance. There’s literally something for everyone-it IS the 99%.

In one of her previous posts, Evelyn articulated that Occupy Wall Street is “global protest of regular people, a network, a movement.” Evelyn stated this perfectly. I think the word “network” is one of the most important to remember in relation to the movement as opposed to other movements seen in the past. Occupy Wall Street isn’t just a network of people; it’s a network of the arts. Different mediums are interwoven into a highly specialized web.

In my first post, I examined what Fred Ritchin illustrated in his article “Toward a Hyperphotography,” when he discussed what it meant to alter images to link and contextualize these forms with other media. Linkage throughout the movement, and connecting ideas from one art form to another exemplifies what Occupy Wall Street is about, using old ideas combined with new forms of media. This is shown through Shepard Fairey’s alteration of the Obama HOPE poster which is merged instead with the image of Guy Fawkes. While Shepard has been criticized for some of the ways in which he subverts images in his other works, his work does show the advancement of contemporary art into a new genre. I touched upon this idea, that Occupy Wall Street is representative of a new branch of contemporary art in one of my earlier posts. I think at the very root of Occupy Wall Streetis a sense of urgency to formulate new and better ideas immediately. Occupy Wall Street is the plight of the common man made known through a growing arts movement, which is a shift to incorporate new media.

Savannah Edwards stated in her post on Twitter and Occupy Wall Street that twitter is being used to share new images that inspire resistance across the movement.Savannah stated that this sharing allowed individuals within the movement to become united with one another. In my opinion this leads to the understanding that the sharing of artwork creates a movement away from an arts community based upon financial gain and instills a sense of unity amongst artists. Creative ventures become less about the “me” and more about the “we”- and how these individuals can use their craft to get others to think. Occupy Wall Street is representative of more unity amongst artists than we’ve known in the past, and this is made possible by our advances in social media.

During this semester, we have been faced with hard challenges to answer seemingly unanswerable questions about Occupy Wall Street. The movement itself is so huge, and made up of so many parts that it’s often difficult to analyze. But in reality, that’s how it should be. Occupy Wall Street is supposed to be the voice of the 99%, and the 99% is an extremely diverse group of individuals and viewpoints. It’s only fitting that there’s something for everyone in the movement. And so much of the art used in the movement reflects this concept. There’s songwriting, poetry, visual art, street art, posters and all kinds of web design projects.

The best metaphor I can think of to describe Occupy Wall Street is a flea market. It’s a lot of old ideas, coming together inexpensively to create new innovation. There’s an emphasis on sharing versus buying and formulating. It’s an arts conglomerate. That’s my answer: Occupy Wall Street is an arts conglomerate, utilizing new media to link together ideas of resistance.

–Jenny Questell

The Role of Comedy in Occupy Wall Street

I mentioned the role of Kickstarter in funding Molly Crabapple’s art in my previous post. Kickstarter has also been beneficial to performance groups such as the Los Angelesbased comedic improv group Laughter Against the Machine. This group in particular has had a unique role in Occupy Wall Street. They’ve visited seven Occupy Wall Street encampments and other political protests while posing the question: what role does comedy play in the revolution? Improv, a fascinating element of street art plays an interesting role in the movement because it is such an organic means of performance. Modern improv utilized in the United States evolved from the classic Italian comedy Commedia dell’Arte. Commedia dell’Arte embodied the first really recorded attempt of using a wide representation of social classes in comedy to battle oppression in Italy. In a way, it was an ancient means of battling the Italian “one-percent.” Improvisation at its core relies on support and individual liberation, and its popularity increases during periods of time when these values are threatened in society. Throughout Laughter Against the Machine’s tour, one of their performers, Nato Green, performed some Occupy Wall Street stand-up.

Green’s comical approach pokes fun at the movement itself, while remaining informative. Humor has continually been used in the movement to garner support. In November of 2011, Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog reappeared on Conan O’Brien.

Triumph, a sassy dog puppet, Triumph was used to make fun of bystanders participating in the protests. Additionally, Triumph attempted to disguise himself as a banker and convince them he was on their side. Incorporating the absurd and even ludicrous jokes and humor in regards to Occupy Wall Street lightens the seriousness of the movement in such a way that it serves to benefit the movement by attracting attention to key elements of the movement, and making it memorable through humor. Triumph also made fun of both sides of the movement, giving a neutral, yet scathing perspective of the 1%…and the 99%. Comedic enterprises involved in the movement continue to remind us that if you can make someone laugh, you can make them think.

–Jenny Questell

So, what is Occupy Wall Street anyways?

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:

1960’s anti-war image

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.


From Alcatraz to Zuccotti: Part 2

American Indian people and their supporters wait for the ferry to Alcatraz in ’69 or ’70. (Ilka Hartmann, via California State University)

My previous post narrated the basic history of the 1969-71 Occupation of Alcatraz. This was the takeover of the then-abandoned former prison by a group of American Indians, mostly California-area college students, in response to unjust treatment of the First Nations by the federal government. The occupiers wanted their grievances heard, and demanded the deed to the island in order to establish an university, cultural center, and museum. The government refused to listen to their demands, the initially sympathetic press grew disdainful, and as the basic organization of the occupiers degraded the government found reason to invade and remove everybody from the island.

The occupiers’ concrete goals were not achieved, but public awareness of their objections was raised and the government policy of ending First Nations sovereignty was gradually halted. While the basic arc reads as very similar to that of the Occupy Wall Street movement thus far, as my colleagues have observed there are some significant differences. OWS has not articulated goals that are as specific; OWS is a larger, more amorphous group; llaurenfrank: “for OWS there doesn’t seem to be anything specific that the government can do in order to end the protest.”

While it is true that OWS’s goals have remained comparatively broad, a recent Washington Post article indicates that their basic goal of correcting economic inequality remains the same. Brittany Duck, a participant in the D.C. May Day protests, said that “[T]here’s still a lot to do. Politicians say the economy is turning around, but for many people out here, the blue-collar workers, it hasn’t.” savannahredwards1 asks, “are [OWS] actually trying to get a specific goal accomplished like the Alcatraz ‘occupiers’ or are they just trying to change the way we think?” The Post article, as well as the articles included in this round-up of coverage of the May Day protests, illuminates that a large number of OWS participants are not satisfied with having “made a lasting contribution to the national debate about income inequality.”

A group of American Indian people at Pier 40 following the June 1971 removal. (Ilka Hartmann, CSU)

The larger scale of OWS is indeed different from the Alcatraz occupation, but one could argue that there is some similarity to be seen in the diversity of the Alcatraz occupation–over 20 tribes were represented, which is part of what led to the development of factions (Winton). Their individual goals differed, but the overall goal of government respect and recognition was the same. This can be compared to regional differences among OWS groups, where the individual goals differ while the overarching goal (correcting economic inequality) remains the same.

With regards to how the government can respond to the OWS protests: it’s possible to argue that there is, in fact, something specific that the government can do to respond to the demand(s) of OWS. If the root problem is income inequality, then bills could be introduced raising the minimum wage to align more realistically with the current cost of living. This would turn the minimum wage into what is known as a living wage; Pennsylvania State University has a website that calculates the living wage for localities across the USA and shows the disparities, illustrating how the difference can contribute to poverty and economic inequality.

That is just one example of a concrete solution; debates over progressive tax rates, another potential concrete solution, are currently ongoing but do not seem likely to go anywhere.

So how does this link back to the Alcatraz occupation? Again, there’s the impact on the national discourse without (immediate) concrete gain. It’s possible that in the long run, due to OWS, we will see real attempts to address income/economic inequality, like the Alcatraz occupation helped end some discriminatory policies.

nb: it should be pointed out that, as has been observed repeatedly by my colleagues on this blog, the majority of ows participants are socially privileged in a way that the alcatraz occupiers were not. it could be argued that this is why their trajectory has bottomed out earlier than alcatraz’s; the perception of this privilege caused people/the media to dismiss them more quickly. however, what will be the real long term effects remains to be seen.