Occupy Wall Street: What's Going On?

Occupy Wall Street: What's Going On?

For the past three weeks, “Occupy Wall Street” protestors have gathered in downtown New York.  Though the protest started small—and wasn’t taken all too seriously—the movement has grown, gaining traction in New York and spreading to cities large and small.

Even President Obama was forced to acknowledge the protest in a press conference yesterday, saying it's a symptom of Americans' frustration with the "biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression."

How Did This Happen?

The protest started with a “U.S. Day of Rage” on September 17—shortly after August’s high unemployment numbers were released (the summer ended with unemployment at 9.1%; here’s more on that). Unemployment has been cited as a major concern for the protestors, in addition to corporate greed, the failure of capitalism and the wealth disparity between our country’s richest and poorest citizens.

At first, the crowd that gathered near Wall Street three weeks ago gained little media attention, maybe because of its wide range of concerns and small size. The outlets that did cover the protest originally viewed it as an unsuccessful version of the Tahrir Square rally, the February protest in Egypt that resulted in Hosni Mubarak's resignation. In those initial days, Occupy Wall Street drew just over 1,000 attendees.

The Occupation Expands

But in the three weeks since then, the protest has gained in legitimacy and numbers. Two major unions, the Amalgamated Transit Union and the United Federation of Teachers, joined the protestors in a march across the Brooklyn Bridge … in which over 700 were arrested. The influential liberal organization MoveOn.org and the Working Families Party have joined the protestors' ranks as well. This week the tension grew, and the NYPD turned to night sticks and pepper spray to control the protests.

And now the movement has sparked offshoots in cities across the United States, including Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and Washington, D.C., as well as Toronto and Montreal. Even more protests are planned in smaller cities like Memphis, Tennessee; Hilo, Hawaii; Minneapolis; Baltimore; and McAllen, Texas.

What Exactly Are They Protesting?

In some ways, that’s the major question. The protesters, who range from the unemployed to anarchists to college students to young parents, are voicing anger and discontent with the general state of the union and the economy. But they've gotten a lot of flack from the media for failing to voice clear demands or potential solutions.

Although there's no official list of demands, a proposed list written by a protester has been making the rounds. Demands (there are 13 of them) include free college education, raising the minimum wage to $20, and outlawing all credit reporting agencies. More mainstream demands include repealing the Glass-Steagall Act and mandating accountability from Wall Street.

What Happens Next?

With new protests planned across the country, it seems likely that even more mainstream organizations and unions will rally behind the movement. Now well-known writers like Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times and Mike Konczal of New Deal 2.0 have offered their ideas for more concrete goals the protesters should adopt, and more potential manifestos are sure to come. Whether the Occupy Wall Street movement will rally behind those goals and accomplish real change remains to be seen.

Image Credit: Flickr/_PaulS_

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