Occupy Wall Street

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Occupy Wall Street launched in Zuccotti Park in the heart of New York's Wall Street financial district on September 17, 2011 in response to the ongoing financial crisis caused by Wall Street banking and financial firms. Occupy protests gathered steam in early October, and by October 9, 2011 demonstrations were being held in 70 major cities and over 600 communities in the United States. Internationally, the Occupy Wall Street "movement" made its appearance in over 900 cities across the globe. [1]

Occupy Wall Street Timeline

Some of the Many Roots of the Occupy

  • September 14, 2007: In one of the most dramatic days in Wall Street history, Lehman Brothers files for bankruptcy and Merrill Lynch sells itself to Bank of America. [1] A global financial crisis ensues caused largely by U.S. banks and financial institutions like AIG. The U.S. Congress and the Federal Reserve organized a bank bailout of some $4.7 trillion. [2] While Wall Street is bailed out, on Main Street, some 8 million people lose their jobs, some 9 million homes were thrown into foreclosure and $8 trillion in wealth disappeared out of the U.S. economy. [2] A Wall Street financial reform bill passed by Congress 2010 does little to address recklessness and greed on Wall Street and further scandal ensues. Mass unemployment leads to drops in revenue for state budgets and austerity politics hit state and local budgets hard.
  • December 2010: The "Arab Spring" refers to the democratic uprisings that arose independently and spread across the Arab world in 2011. The movement originated in Tunisia in December 2010 and quickly took hold in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. The physical occupation of Tahir Square in Egypt in January 2011, helped bring an end to the Mubarak dictatorship in February 2011.
  • February/March 2011: Hundreds of thousands in Wisconsin protested Governor Scott Walker’s attack on collective bargaining rights of workers and steep budget cuts in health care and education. The Wisconsin Capitol is occupied for 17 days and nights.[3]
  • April 15, 2011: On Tax Day 2011, “The Other 98%” grassroots network begins campaigning to counter the Tea Party. Their mission: to kick corporate lobbyists out of DC, hold elected officials accountable and fix democracy to “make Washington work for the other 98% of us.” [4]
  • May 2011: Journalist David Degraw publishes the book, The Economic Elite vs. The People of the United States. In the book DeGraw writes, “The harsh truth is that 99% of the US population no longer has political representation.” Degraw followed up by launching the 99 Percent Movement, a social network soliciting ideas for a platform of economic and legal reform. [5]
  • June 14, 2011: New Yorkers against Budget Cuts, a group of mostly young, mostly leftist activists took to the sidewalk near City Hall to protest financial austerity and the mayor’s plan to lay off 4,000 public school teachers and close 20 fire companies. The “city” was named Bloombergville after Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City. The Green Party, the International Socialist Organization, and the South Bronx Community Congress endorsed the protest. [6]

Adbusters Issues Call to Occupy Wall Street

Bull Dancer.jpg
  • June 19, 2011: Canada-based magazine “Adbusters” registered the domain name occupywallstreet.org. [7]
  • June 29, 2011: New York City Council passed a budget that avoided most layoffs. New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts disbanded Bloombergville. [8]
  • July 13, 2011 Vancouver: Canada-based magazine “Adbusters” issued a call to “Occupy Wall Street.” They wrote on their blog, “On September 17, we want to see 20,000 people flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months.” Adbusters created a Twitter hashtag (#OccupyWallStreet) and a campaign poster (a ballerina balanced on top of a bull). [9]
  • August 2, 2011: Members of New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts responded to email invitation and gathered near “Charging Bull” the Arturo Di Modica structure near Wall Street. The meeting was meant to be a protest and a “peoples general assembly.” The meeting was taken over by the protest group the Worker’s World Party who led a march of about 80 people past the Stock Exchange. [10]
  • August 9, 2011: A meeting, led by New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts, was relocated from Bowling Green Park union headquarters near ground zero to discuss Occupy Wall Street. The meeting lacked momentum. [11]
  • August 23, 2011: Hactivist organization posted video under the name “Anonymous” which announced plans to mobilize 20,000 people in lower Manhattan. “Anonymous” garnered national media attention,[12]

and spawned Department of Homeland Security alerts. [13]

  • September 1, 2011: Nine protestors were arrested after testing a court ruling that protestors could gather on New York sidewalks, without a permit, as long as they didn’t completely block them. Eight were released the same day without summons. A ninth stayed 24 hours and went before a judge who threw the case out. [14]
  • September 3, 2011: A General Assembly meeting was held in Tompkins Square Park in the East Village to discuss the nine arrests and plan for September 17. There were discussion concerning whether or not OWS should follow the law or practice civil disobedience. [15]
  • September 9, 2011: The Tumblr Page for “We are The 99%” begins to be filled by supporters of Occupy Wall Street. [16]
  • September 17, 2011: This was the first official day of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. The protests initially began at CityBank where there were an estimated 500 -700 people in the General Assembly and about 200 people who slept over. [17] The location changed to Zuccotti Park, and by 3pm hundreds, estimates range that anywhere from 500- 2,000 people had shown up. [18] New York City Police Department allowed the protestors to remain in the park, but prohibited protestors from erecting tents, citing loitering rules. Marches were held up and down Wall Street. [19]
  • September 19, 2011: Occupy protests begin to generate media coverage. Keith Olbermann of Current TV is one of the first journalists to fully cover the event. Olbermann criticizes the media saying, “Why isn’t any major news outlet covering this?...If that’s a Tea Party protest in front of Wall Street….it’s the lead story on every network newscast.” [20] “Anonymous” promised to flood the New York Stock exchange, the Federal Reserve, Goldman Sachs, and the NASDAQ with all-black pages to burn through their paper and toner cartridges. [21]
  • September 20, 2011: Seven peaceful protestors were arrested by the NYPD through implementation of a 150-year-old law to “prevent masked gathering of two or more people unless they are throwing masquerade parties. The law dates back to 1845 when farmers wore masks to conduct attacks against the police. One protestor was arrested simply for wearing a mask on the back of her head. [22]
  • September 23, 2011: A dark and blurry YouTube video with muffled audio called on hactivists to “cripple” the communication systems of the NYPDM,. [23]

Police Brutality Catapults Occupation into the Headlines

New York Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna Pepper Sprays Two Occupy Protestors
  • September 24, 2011: A group of young women protesters, already corralled held behind police lines, were pepper sprayed in their faces with no provocation by a New York city police officer. Within days the incident would catapult the Occupy protest into the media spotlight. 80 protestors were arrested during a march from Zuccotti Park to Union Square. Many did not know why they were being arrested as police did their best to block protestors from marching with orange tape. New rules were posted in the park that banned sleeping bags and camping gear in addition to the previously banned bicycle riding. [24] Occupy Chicago Starts and is modeled after Occupy Wall Street. [25]
  • September 25, 2011: Following police violence, an Anonymous video announced “We will constitute a declaration of war against the NYPD if this brutality does not stop. If we hear of brutality in the ext 36 hours, then we will take you down from the internet.” [26]
  • September 26, 2011: Photographer David Stam identified Anthony Bologna as one of the pepper spraying NYPD officers. OWS released video of the incident and demanded that Bologna be charged for his crimes ad receive jail time. They also demanded that Mayor Michael Bloomberg address the OWS General Assembly and “apologize for the police brutality and cover-up that followed.” [27] Michael Moore addressed the crowd at Liberty Plaza in the evening. [28]
  • September 27, 2011: New York City Councilmen Charles Barro and Jumaane Williams are the first elected officials to publically visit Zuccotti Park. Dr. Cornel West led the nightly meeting, known as the General Assembly, to address almost 2,000 people. [29]
  • September 28, 2011: In a unanimous vote Transport Workers Union, which has over 38,000 members, became the first union to publically support Occupy Wall Street. A spokesperson for TWU Jim Gannon said, “A motion was brought up to endorse the protest’s goals; I don’t know why it took us so long to do it.” [30]
  • September 29, 2011: Protestors in San Francisco attempt to occupy Citibank, Chase. And tried to enter a Charles Schwab financial institution. Protestors cited Occupy Wall Street as inspiration. [31]
  • September 30, 2011: More than 1,000 demonstrators, including representatives of labor organizations, held a peaceful march to police headquarters to protest what they called “a heavy-handed police response” the previous week. No arrests were reported. [32]
  • October 1, 2011: 700 are arrested after 5,000 protestors flood the Brooklyn Bridge, shutting down a lane of traffic for several hours. [33] Occupy Movements begin in Los Angeles, Boston, and St. Louis.
Wall street banker.jpg
  • October 2, 2011: Videos emerged that showing police allowing protestors to walk to the bridge’s main road and the preceding to arrest them. [34]
  • October 3, 2011: Protestors dress as zombies to make a statement that “we’re all infected:” group-oriented protestors, overworked BYPD, the fed-up unions and the exponentially multiplying press. [35]
  • October 5, 2011: Transport Workers Union members join in the Occupy Wall Street march and rally. Protestors gathered at City Hall at 4:30 and marched to Zuccotti Park. There were an estimated 5,000 to 15,000 demonstrators. [36] About 200 people tried to push through barricades after nightfall. Police responded with pepper spray and penned them in with orange netting. Some younger demonstrators were arrested. Similar arrests are made in Seattle. Protests continue in Boston and Philadelphia. [37]
  • October 6, 2011: 5,000 protestors marched in Portland, Oregon. [38] A National student walkout began trending on twitter (#occupycolleges). A total of 75 colleges joined in the movement. [39] Asked about Occupy Wall Street, President Obama said: “I think it expresses the frustrations the American people feel, that we had the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, huge collateral damage all through the country…and yet you’re seeing some of the same folks who acted irresponsibly trying to fight efforts to crack down on the abusive practices that got us into this in the first place.” [40]
  • October 8, 2011: Protestors are pepper-sprayed by security guards in Washington D.C. after trying to enter the National Air and Space Museum. Out of the estimated 100-200 people who were in the crowd, one person was arrested. Protesters called the pepper spraying unwarranted and said they were there for a peaceful protest. [41] 1,000 marched from Zuccotti Park to Washington Square Park, located in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. [42]
  • October 9, 2011: Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek addressed crowd at Zuccotti Park and expressed support for the protests during one of several open forums. [43]
  • October 10, 2011: More than 50 protesters arrested in Occupy Boston protest, after they ignored to move from a downtown greenway near where they had been camped out for more than a week. [44] NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg suggested he did not anticipate an effort by the city to remove demonstrations but said, “If they break the laws, then we’re going to do what we’re supposed to do – enforce the laws.” [45]
  • October 11, 2011: Police arrested at least six in an Occupy Washington D.C. Protest after swooping in on protestors unfurling banners at a U.S. Senate office building in Washington. [46] Boston police arrested more than 100 protestors after the Occupy Boston group was told by authorities to move back. [47]

Mayor Orders Zuccotti Park Cleared

  • October 13, 2011: NYC Mayor Bloomberg orders protesters to clear Zuccotti Park for cleaning, saying they would be allowed to return after the cleaning. Protestors gathered cleaning materials and said they planned to clean the park themselves. [48] 90 college campuses hold rallies in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street. Four Occupy Austin protesters arrested after refusing to leave a protest outside of city hall. Warren Buffet came out in support of Occupy Wall Street and said, “There has never been a larger gap between earnings in this country…” The NYPD says protesters will not be cleared from the park and that it will be cleaned in thirds. [49]
  • October 14, 2011: NYC Mayor Bloomberg officially announces cancellation of the clear-up. [50]
  • October 15, 2011: Thousands march through Manhattan to the US Armed Forces recruiting station to protest money being spent on foreign wars. [51] Cornel West is arrested on the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington D.C. protesting against corporate influence in politics. He was subsequently not charged. [52]
  • October 15, 2011: 175 protesters of Occupy Chicago were arrested in Grant Park. The City of Chicago used CTA buses to transport demonstrators and process them into city jails.[53] The arrested demonstrators would all be charged with misdemeanors.
  • October 16, 2011: President Obama extends support to the protestors. [54] The White House issues a statement that says Obama is fighting for the interests of the 99%. [55]
  • October 17, 2011: Freelance journalist, Caitlin Curran, is fired from public radio station WYNC for holding a protest sign at an Occupy Wall Street on October 15, 2011. She was covering the event at the time. She was fired for violating editorial standards by participating in the protest she was covering. [56]
  • October 20, 2011: Freelance journalist, Lisa Simeone is fired from her position as host of Soundprint, a National Public Radio (NPR) program for her leadership role in an occupy D.C. organization. Both Soundprint and NPR found her role in the protests to be in violation of journalistic standards. [57]
  • October 21, 2011: Cornel West is arrested in New York as part of a peaceful protest against the NYPD’s “Stop and Frisk.” [58]
  • October 23, 2011: In Chicago another 130 protesters were arrested in Grant Park for a second straight weekend. All would be charged with misdemeanors. [59]

Wisconsin Veteran Seriously Injured by Oakland Police

  • October 25, 2011: In Oakland, California hundreds of police move against Occupy Oakland protesters using teargas, beanbag rounds and rubber bullets. 85 people were arrested. Scott Olsen, an Iraq War veteran, is in critical condition after “being hit in the head by a police projectile.” [60]
  • October 26, 2011: Hundreds of OWS protestors hold a march for Scott Olsen, who was in intensive care after being hit in the head by police projectile in an Occupy Oakland protest a day earlier. [61]
  • October 29, 2011: More than a dozen are arrested in Denver , Colorado in an Occupy Denver protest. Protestors pushed over a police motorcycle while the policeman was riding it. Police fired rounds of pellets filled with pepper spray. [62]
  • October 30, 2011: Two dozen are arrested in Portland, Oregon for failing to leave park after midnight. [63]
  • November 3, 2011: More than a hundred protestors were arrested in an Occupy Oakland protest. Police fired tear gas and flash bang grenades. Another Iraq veteran was severely injured by police. [64] Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said that Occupy Wall Street misunderstands the role of the Federal Reserve in the bank bailouts and said, “The Federal Reserve was involved, obviously, in trying to stabilize the financial system in 2008 and 2009…A very simplistic interpretation of that was that we were doing that because we wanted to preserve, you know, banker salaries. This is obviously not the case.” [65]
  • November 5, 2011: Protestors and participants across the country joined in Bank Transfer Day, an effort that encouraged citizens to move their money from national banks to local credit unions. More than 60,000 moved their money in the month prior to Bank Transfer Day. [66]
  • November 14, 2011: Scott Olsen, an Iraq war veteran who was in critical condition after being hit in the head by a police projectile, was discharged from California hospital. [67]

New York Police Raid Zuccotti Park

  • November 15, 2011: 70 were arrested as the NYPD raided and cleared the Occupy Wall Street camp from Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan. Tents were cleared away and possessions were thrown out. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the decision was “his alone” because the health and safety at the park had become “intolerable.” [68] More than ten journalists were arrested while covering the raid. Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer scolded his police department and said, “I cannot remember any time this many reporters were arrested during a protest…Zuccotti Park is not Tiananmen Square. [69] More than 5,000 books are cleared out of Zuccotti Park as the YPD wipes out the Occupy Wall Street Library. [70] A pregnant teen, an elderly woman, and a priest are among those pepper sprayed in an Occupy Seattle protest. At least six were arrested. [71]
  • November 16, 2011: Protestors return to Zuccotti Park. Judge Michael Stallman ruled that demonstrators did not have the right to erect tents or other structures in the park. [72]

Demands and Goals

The Occupy movement focuses primarily on social and economic inequality between the 99% and the top 1% of the US population.

While a number of organizers have discussed demands, a member of the New York City General Assembly said OWS will not issue demands because, "demands are for terrorists and that is not who we are." The Goals Working Group may produce an alternative document.[73]

Roger Lowenstein of 'Bloomberg Business Week' reported, "[protesters] want more and better jobs, more equal distribution of income, less profit (or no profit) for banks, lower compensation for bankers, and more strictures on banks with regard to negotiating consumer services such as mortgages and debit cards. They also want to reduce the influence that corporations—financial firms in particular—wield in politics, and they want a more populist set of government priorities: bailouts for student debtors and mortgage holders, not just for banks." [74]

Ralp Gomory from the Huffington Post said the Occupy Movement does not have a plan but it does have a goal. "[Protesters] want to change the system so that its wealth and power are not so concentrated in the hands of a few," said Gomory. [75] Gomory says this goal is best expressed by the phrase "Democracy not Plutocracy."

Response to the Wall Street Bailout

Denim and suits.jpeg

Many OWS protestors focus on the unfairness of the Wall Street Bailouts pointing out that the banks benefited from generous bailouts that the vast majority of Americans would never enjoy. Many protestors are asking banks to be held accountable for crashing the economy. [76]

On October 12, Occupy Chicago Protestors laid down concrete plans on how to rebuild the economy and create jobs. The Chicago Political Economy Group (CPEG) released a plan to create 40,000 jobs in the Chicago area. The jobs plan is funded by a tiny $.25 speculation fee, to be paid by every buyer and seller of derivatives contracts on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board Options Exchange. The group estimates that the tiny tax will generate nearly $1.4 billion per year in direct funding for jobs.

Similarly, a growing list of groups is campaigning for the United States reinstate a financial transaction tax on Wall Street trading. A diverse array of groups including, the Rebuild the American Dream Movement, Americans for Financial Reform, AFL-CIO, SEIU, the National Nurses Union, and the New Bottom Line Coalition (over 1,000 faith and housing groups) are throwing their weight behind the idea of a federal financial transaction tax to force Wall Street to help pay for the damage it has done to the economy. Such a tax would raise an estimated $176 billion in revenue.[77]

Media Criticism

The Occupy Wall Street Movement has been criticized by the media for a lack of focus and agenda. Media outlets Fox News and the Ludwig von Mises Institute jumped on a "proposal" forum post on occupywallst.org. Fox News writes, "Real Demands of Occupy Wall Street...and Try Not to Laugh." [78] The list of demands includes a guaranteed living wage income and a racial and gender equal rights amendment. The post was submitted by a single user and was misreported as an official list of demands. According to the admin-edited forum post, "[the] content was not published by the OccupyWallSt.org collective, nor was it ever proposed or agreed to on a consensus basis with the NYC General Assembly. There is NO official list of demands," [79] Participatory online discussion forums have been emerging for citizens to submit and vote for specific agenda items.

Kalle Lasn, Canadian author and activist, called the initial phase of OWS "leaderless" and said "the protesters are not hopping into bed with any party, even the Democratic party." He said, "As the winter approaches, I think there will be different phases and ideas, possibly fragmentation into different agendas. I think crystal-clear demands will emanate ... The messy, leaderless, demandless movement has launched a national conversation of the likes that we haven’t had in 20 years. That’s as good as it gets! Not every one needs to have a leader with clear demands. That’s the old way of launching revolutions. This revolution is run by the Internet generation, with egalitarian ways of looking at things, and an inclusive process of getting everyone involved. That’s the magic of it." [80]

Response to Criticism

On October 8, an editorial in the New York Times said it is not the job of the protesters to draft legislation; that’s the job of the nation’s leaders, and if they had been doing it all along there might not be a need for these marches and rallies. Because they have not, the public airing of grievances is a legitimate and important end in itself, the Times said [81].

Glenn Greenwald, an American Lawyer an author, responded, ""Does anyone really not know what the basic message is of this protest: that Wall Street is oozing corruption and criminality and its unrestrained political power—in the form of crony capitalism and ownership of political institutions—is destroying financial security for everyone else?" [82]

Media theorist Douglas Rushkoff criticized the mainstream media for dismissing the protesters. "Anyone who says he has no idea what these folks are protesting is not being truthful. Whether we agree with them or not, we all know what they are upset about, and we all know that there are investment bankers working on Wall Street getting richer while things for most of the rest of us are getting tougher," [83] Rushkoff says that Occupy Wall Street is the first true Internet-era movement, and as such, it does not have a charismatic leader or particular endpoint. Unlike a traditional protest which identifies the enemy and fights for a particular solution, Rushkoff concludes that the protest is less about victory than sustainability, inclusion and consensus.

Cornel West said "It’s impossible to translate the issue of the greed of Wall Street into one demand or two demands...you’re talking about raising political consciousness so it spills over all parts of the country, so people can begin to see what’s going on through a different set of lens. And then you begin to highlight what the more detailed demands would be, because in the end we’re really talking about what Martin King would call a revolution: a transfer of power from oligarchs to everyday people of all colors. And that is a step-by-step process," [84].

We are the 99%

"We are the 99%" has become the slogan for the "Occupy" protests across the United States. We are the 99% refers to the extreme difference in wealth among the top 1% as compared to the rest of the US population. Americans have the highest income inequality in the rich world, and have experienced the greatest increase in income inequality among rich nations over the past 20 - 30 years. A 2011 Congressional Budget Office study [85] found that income in the top 1% increased 275% in the period between 1979 and 2007, while it only increased 18-40% for the rest of the population.

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The study also found

  • The top 20% of the population earned 53% of after-tax income in 2007, as opposed to 43% in 1979
  • The top 1% reaped a 17% share of all income, up from 8% in 1979
  • The bottom 20% reaped just 5% of after-tax income, vs. 7% in 1979

Going Viral

We are the 99% which started on a tumblr blog transformed into internet meme that went viral. Images showed a person holding a piece of paper with their story on it and ended with the phrase "We are the 99%" [86]

New York Times columnist Anne-Marie Slaughter described pictures on the "We are the 99" website as "page after page of testimonials from members of the middle class who took out loans to pay for education, took out mortgages to buy their houses and a piece of the American dream, worked hard at the jobs they could find, and ended up unemployed or radically underemployed and on the precipice of financial and social ruin." [87]


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