The day Occupy Wall Street came to Every Street
October 22, 2011 § Leave a comment
October 15 is being hailed as the day that Occupy Wall Street went global. In New Zealand, demonstrators in Auckland and Wellington joined hundreds of thousands around the world in adding their voices to the anger aimed at the financial institutions and hapless regulators that plunged the world into deep economic crisis.
For the backdrop that got us to where we are today, watch the marvelous documentary Inside Job. You may also be awestruck by these frank admissions by share trader Alessio Rastani who told BBC News 24 that he “goes to bed every night dreaming of another recession”.
It’s no wonder many Americans are feeling angry and disenfranchised and this is resonating around the world, especially in Europe where the debt crisis is also hurting millions. As well as in the United States, it is no coincidence there have been significant October 15 protests in Spain, Italy, Greece, Britain and Portugal, all of which have been badly affected by Europe’s debt crisis, economic stagnation and government spending cuts.
And how the movement has grown since it began in anger in New York on September 17.
It goes without saying that the Internet and social networking tools have played a vital part in sustaining the Occupy Wall Street movement and given rise to many autonomous but loosely connected protest offshoots. It could even be a textbook illustration on how to successfully grow a Protest 2.0 movement.
Occupy Wall Street activists have taken to creating a myriad of websites and using an entire toolbox of social platforms as well as the usual standards of YouTube, Flickr, Twitter and Facebook to start a contagion that has spread through the United States and abroad.
According to this New York Times blog, the growth in the movement’s social media audience has been spectacular. “On Facebook, the overall audience has grown to more than 1.2 million in the last two weeks as hundreds of Facebook pages have been created around the country and now around the world. There are dozens of global Facebook pages now, including Occupy Brazil, Occupy Berlin, Occupy Sidney and Occupy Tokyo. Users also turned to Meetup.com and FourSquare … to help find each other and organise protests.”
It is also being called a movement without a leader, a genuine outpouring of grass roots activism. Check out this video made of the protesters occupying the movement’s symbolic Ground Zero – a temporary protest camp within a block of Wall St in Lower Manhattan. Some are motivated by increased personal hardship in difficult times while others are more articulate as to why they are calling for an end of what they call a culture of corporate greed which profits at the expense of everyday people.
One important lesson about web enabled protest is that it means having to give up control or never to attempt seizing it in the first place. For a rather good articulation of what drives Occupy Wall Street, watch this interview with Jesse LaGreca, who has become something of a reluctant spokesperson. Fox News did not air this interview but it has since been viewed nearly one million times on YouTube.
Another observation is how social tools have been very effective at challenging the official narrative of events, such as the October 1 protest on Brooklyn Bridge that resulted in hundreds of arrests. Demonstrators were able to use the social media and alternative new websites to post images and accounts that contradicted the New York Police line that the marchers had disobeyed City Hall instructions.
In a parallel story, protesters are also innovating, taking natural advantage of the possibilities of the mobile web. Today’s guerilla activists are increasingly using the natural cover of the Internet to wage protest campaigns. Websites have sprung up to support the movement, and platforms not previously used for political activism like Tumblr have been co-opted.
CleanTechnica reports that “Occupy Wall Street demonstrators have begun to forsake Twitter as an organising tool in favor of a mobile phone app called Vibe which enables users to post information anonymously and temporarily”.
We already know the internet allows protest movements to organise, network and share information in real time. We’ve seen it in Iran, China and in the Arab Spring. But it is also proving vital to crowd-sourcing contributions from individuals with stories to share. Take the images and stories being posted on the WeAreThe99Percent Tumblr page where people are are posting pictures of themselves with a handwritten letter explaining why they are one of the 99 percent.
The images and stories are moving, testimonies by real people affected by reduced circumstances. These are disillusioned people, angry that the architects of the financial and economic meltdown have emerged with bonuses while millions are left poorer, many of them on the breadline for the first times in their lives.
The web allows movements to coalesce and organise but it is individuals that make them grow. I am reminded of this Maori proverb. He aha te mea nui o tea o? He tangata! He tangata! He tangata! What is the most important thing in the world? It is people! It is people! It is people!
This is why the stories of the 99 percent are so important and now, they have ways to tell them.