Archive for "protest"
“What are their demands?”
“Have you seen them? They’re so dirty and smelly!”
“Why are they protesting at Wall Street?”
“They don’t know what they’re talking about.”
These are a few of the questions and statements I’ve heard from many of my fellow law students about the Occupy Wall Street protest over the past few weeks. Many Brooklyn Law students seem to misunderstand, express unease, or even have outright contempt for what’s happening down in Zuccotti Park near Wall Street. I think that this protest is important to understand, because these protests demonstrate an intense disapproval with the corruption and greed that led to the current economic crisis. Some students have participated, either as protesters or legal observers, but this is addressed to the majority of students.
I was excited to join this protest when I first got a Facebook invite in August just after I moved to New York. I spent most of last spring in Madison, Wisconsin protesting the highly undemocratic and anti-worker legislation pushed by Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin. As an labor organizer, I was horrified that the current economic situation in the US was blamed on “greedy” public sector workers whose pensions were “too rich” and out of line with everyone else’s meager benefits. Hundreds of thousands of people participated in those protests and are still fighting to repeal that law. I feared that Wisconsin would be forgotten quickly and we would continue to allow the rich and powerful to scapegoat the working class and the poor. When I saw the invite from Adbusters, I could only hope that this fight against greed and inequality might spread beyond a single issue or locality.
The protests give voice to the anger and frustration many feel today. They focus that general dissent on the symbolic focal point of greed in America: Wall Street. As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman acknowledged in his editorial “Confronting the Malefactors” on Thursday: “The protesters’ indictment of Wall Street as a destructive force, economically and politically, is completely right.” Sure there are other places that deserve a good protest, but the bottom line is that Wall Street is symbolic of the excessive greed and total irresponsibility infecting our economic system. They were a significant hand in our current economic mess.
Saying that we should be protesting in Washington D.C. or in Midtown isn’t a valid criticism for two reasons. First, if we started these protests somewhere else, we would have been told why those places were inappropriate. Those who criticize our choice of location don’t really think we should be protesting at all. Second: we’re getting to it! Protests have sprung up all over the country and internationally. Friends of mine have participated in #OccupyLA (which was also endorsed by the LA City Council), #OccupyMN (bold people that sleep outside in Minnesota), and my cousin has even found sympathy protests in Korea, where she is teaching. Over 200 protests have sprung up and are growing more sophisticated. Occupy D.C. is picking up steam with marches on the US Chamber of Commerce and the IMF, a gathering at a church near Dupont Circle to mark the 10th anniversary of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, and a rally at Freedom Plaza with Ralph Nader as a speaker. And the Occupy protests are simply part of a larger movement. The organizers take their inspiration from Tahrir Sqare and the Arab Spring. The uprising in Madison this spring and the general strike in Greece last week indicate a growing opposition to global anti-worker austerity measures. Whatever it is that is happening is big and would be a mistake to ignore.
In response to the criticism that the protests have been incoherent in message and demands, I would argue that the protests have been wisely inclusive. There are protesters against the war, against the death penalty and the execution of Troy Davis, against money in politics, for taxing the richest amongst us, for workers’ rights, and other issues around on economic equality. I personally agree with many of the causes, but not always. The fact is, people are angry and frustrated with the way things are going. What I see is a wide variety of citizens finding common ground. And that common ground is the growing social and economic inequality in our society. They are bound together as “the 99%.”
What the protesters want is big, ambitious, and it brings people together. It is unlikely that we will change the way this country fundamentally works over the next weeks and months, but pressure is mounting for the-powers-that-be to make changes to appease the protesters and their sympathizers. Without protests in the streets and without growing numbers of Americans openly voicing their disapproval with our system, politicians will continue to choose corporate money over the greater good. So if you think there is something wrong in our society and that the gap has gotten too big in our economy, stop worrying if these kids should take a shower, or if their messages haven’t been vetted by focus groups and policy institutes, and get down to the protest and make your voice heard.
Ben Ward is a 1L member of the BLS National Lawyers Guild. He was most recently the organizer of the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).