The '99 Percent' Against Wall Street

Democracy Revolution

by Pauline Moullot and Valentine Pasquesoone

Is it the outset of a new American revolution? Since September 17, protesters have gathered in the heart of New York City’s financial district, angry at what they say is the negative and dramatic impact of Wall Street on their daily lives. In public and online, Occupy Wall Street is a growing movement, taking inspiration from revolutions in protests in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. Will the Arab Spring be followed by an American Fall?

It seems unlikely, but it’s not just some of the U.S. protesters who see themselves as part of a global movement against corruption. Media outlets outside the U.S. see American protesters as somehow connected to demonstrations popping up around the world.

The American protesters are the 99 percent, they say. The 99 percent suffering from the economic and social aftermaths of the 2008 financial crisis. Some are young and unemployed, while others are working class and struggling to get by. From Spain to Thailand, this is something many can relate to.

International newspapers started covering the event as 700 were arrested on Brooklyn Bridge, last Saturday. In three weeks, the movement expanded and gained support, not only from unions and celebrities like filmmaker Michael Moore but also a group of Chinese activists thousands of miles away.

On Wednesday, 5000 people took to the streets of New York, a number expected to rise in the days to come. As the protests spread to major U.S cities from Seattle to Washington, D.C., worldwide media, from Spain to China, are paying attention to what could turn out to be a major street-based movement—one that could link arms with frustrated demonstrators across the world.

El Pais’s Barbara Celis highlights the Spanish influence on the protests and reports on Spanish protesters who came all the way to New York to show their solidarity.

Certainly the presence of Spanish protesters has something to do with the success of the American movement. Some came directly from the 15M movement and other came because, by looking at the Puerta del Sol events, they became sure it could become international. (...) Manuel Levin, a student in English says: “The legitimacy crisis of the political institutions is the same in most countries who have been democratic for years. The new generations don’t believe anymore in the politicians and that’s why we want to change them.” How to change was the key question to the Spanish debate and it also is in Wall Street.

From the Middle East, Arab News suggests that the Arab world should get some credit for sparking the Occupy Wall Street movement. “Anger is indeed in the air” writes K.V.S Madhav, who depicts protests in the financial district as clear evidence of the Arab awakening’s inspiration on “ the American spring.” But the author however asks: Is this spring, or fall for America?

Staying put on the streets of Manhattan, the protesters insist they have taken inspiration from Tahrir Square and were seeking to emulate the Arab uprising using social media as a vehicle of mass awakening (...) Ironically, in taking a leaf out of the Arab revolution, the protests seem to grow in resonance as the American Fall, the season when leaves change hues and submerge American hinterlands in a sea of yellow, brown and orange, begins. Is this the real American fall, one that would bring in new hues to the lives of ordinary Americans?

For The Havana Times’s Matthew Whitt, this is unprecedented. The author argues that this is the first time since the civil right movement in the 1960’s and 1970’s that Americans are truly asking for change. But the comparison with hippies or a left tea-party doesn’t stand, as it is only a way for delegitimizing the OWS movement.

Occupy Wall Street (OWS) could be the first real activist movement to enact significant change in the U.S. since the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s.
With the young movement’s spotty media coverage, most of which is condescending and bordering willful ignorance, it is easy to imagine how this very real and dynamic protest had been initially overlooked. This is especially the case considering how the mainstream media has mainly focused its gaze on the demographic of the protesters and their lack of narrowly defined demands. Defining the group as a bunch of violent hippies, a label soaked in paradox, and forcing their message into one of the many conveniently stagnant political lenses in U.S. politics, is clearly an attempt at de-legitimizing the movement.

The Nation’s Thai Thanong Khanthong can’t help comparing the media coverage of OWS with the way international media reported on the events in Thailand last year. In “Conveniently Ignoring theTruth”, the journalist argues that the press tried to ignore OWS because it criticizes the elites they represent. Yet they defended the Red Shirt Movement in Thailand, criticizing the Thai elites. The western media are prompt to attack developing countries’ elite, but won’t do it in their own countries.

The mainstream American media at first tried to pretend that Occupy Wall Street did not exist. (...)This reminds me of the western media's coverage of the Thai political polarisation and the chaos of last year. (...) The international media have consistently attacked the Thai elite, the elite in the Middle East and other emerging-market countries, which do not serve the interests of the western powers. But the international media barely criticises or dares to touch on the elite in their own countries, which are the main culprits behind the current global financial and banking crisis and depression.

In “Call it the American Spring,” the South China Morning Post supports the OWS movement.
Simply because everyone should support the ones who attack subversive capitalism, trying to reestablish a true democracy, they claim.

Corporate plutocrats in America - and politicians who support them - (...) have created the most extreme inequalities in the industralised world. They have subverted democracy and capitalism, the very twin social-economic systems that America has been trying to sell the world since the collapse of the Berlin Wall.(...)The world should support the anti-Wall Street protesters. They need to take back American democracy and restore true capitalism.

Up to fifty Chinese activists and intellectuals even wrote a letter of solidarity to the protesters of Wall Street, convinced of the global potential of this American movement. The “Wall Street Revolution,” they say, is on the edge of waking up a worldwide popular movement against the failures of capitalism, toward shared prosperity and democracy.

The eruption of the “Wall Street Revolution” in the heart of the world’s financial empire shows that 99% of the world’s people remain exploited and oppressed – regardless of whether they are from developed or developing countries. (...) The same fate, the same pain, the same problems, the same conflict. Faced with a common enemy in an elite global class that has already linked-up, the people of the world have only one option: to unite and in a unified and shared struggle overturn the rule of the capitalist elite, to ensure that everyone enjoys the basic human rights of work, housing, health care, education, and a secure old-age. (...) The great “Wall Street Revolution” and the great popular “Chilean Winter” that preceded it signal that the day when we realize shared prosperity and popular democracy is approaching. It signals that worldwide popular and democratic socialist movement – dormant since the 1970s – is waking up again.


[Photo courtesy of Jessierocks]

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Originally posted on our partner site, the World Policy Journal Blog.

New York City, Occupy Wall Street