Occupy Wall Street Movement and its Implications as a New Form of Protest
"We are what democracy looks like!" that is a major theme that is represented through the Occupy Wall Street movement (Benjamin 1). Essentially, the movement is a new adaptation to older nonviolent protests styles. It encompasses elements of older traditions, like the use of nonviolent sit ins and marches; however, it proves much different from more traditional protests based on its inclusion of the middle class, and the diverse movement objectives that are not so easily packaged into a neat media story, but are being translated through individual user media outlets. The movement is meant to encourage a new way of thinking about democracy, and how we should live our lives in an era that is trying to deny us that very right.
Occupy Wall Street has been taking action on the streets of New York since September of 2011. As a movement, it has grown significantly since its earliest days, and now has spurred similar movements in cities all over the country. Those involved are standing up against what they believe is a corrupt financial system that continually rewards the rich for the greed, and punishes the middle class and the poor. In the decade of the recession, economic crisis has led to a majority of Americans disdaining the financial institutions and elitist capitalists that got us so entrenched in the recession in the first place. Today's capitalism serves only an elite few and "the liberal state is structurally constrained to represent the economic and political interests of the capitalist class," (Jenkins & Brents 906). After the onslaught of the housing crisis, and the clear exploitation of the American people in favor of profit potential, the Occupy Wall Street movement is demanding acknowledgement and the exposure of the one percent that has exploited the middle class for so long. Within the movement itself, there is "the unifying conviction that money has undone the social compact," (Benjamin 1). Thus, the movement is representing the 99% of Americans who have had enough of being exploited by the very financial institutions their tax dollars helped bail out time and time again.
The Occupy Wall Street movement is relying on the strategy of protests, marches, and nonviolent sit ins. The most infamous image of the protesters is through the pictures of the encampments in the financial districts of cities around the nation. By using non-violent sit ins and marches, the movement is in many ways embodying elements of traditional nonviolent actions that have been used time and time again in this country, most notably during the Civil Rights era. Essentially, "the term nonviolent action refers to those methods of protest, noncooperation, and intervention in which the actionists, without employing physical violence, refuse to do certain things which they are expected, or required, to do," (Sharp 2). Here, the research shows that there are 197 types of nonviolent action, in three classes: "nonviolent protest and persuasion, noncooperation, and nonviolent intervention," (Sharp 3). Many of these types were made popular during the Civil Rights era, when sit ins, marches, and public protests made headlines across the country, as minority groups demanded greater civil liberties within the context of an emerging modern America. Most remarkable is the nonviolent protest, which is "symbolic in their effect and produce an awareness of the existence of dissent," (Sharp 3). Occupy Wall Street is using such elements in order to draw attention to the dissatisfaction of many Americans in the wake of the recession. Several marches and public protests have taken place throughout the month of October, with the Labor Unions even joining for a march across the bridge on October 5th, 2011. Occupy Times Square was another execution of the nonviolent public protest that occurred on a massive scale. The movement is also embracing methods of noncooperation as well. This was seen in the scene of protesters entering private bank property and closing their bank accounts in protests. Citibank in New York was the scene of one such protest, where protesters were actually locked in and arrested by police. This represents the boycotting large banks in order to show that the American people will no longer support this unchecked corporate greed. Such practices represent the movement's execution of traditional nonviolent protest methods.
However, there are many ways in which the Occupy Wall Street movement actually differs from traditional protests. Essentially, the research here states that "Protests are often symbolic statements with important elite or institutional support, not disruptive challenges to public order," (Oliver & Maney 468). Yet, Occupy Wall Street is a direct challenge of the public order, and asks its supporters to disrupt the flow of this elite serving capitalism that has the rest of the country in financial ruins and debt. The entire movement demands for disruption, which is a feature that was not often attributed to modern protests, which are more cooperative in nature. Additionally, the movement does not fight for a single solution to a stationary problem. There is not a single person or act of legislation that it targets. Here, it is described as "Friends worry the movement is good-willed but amorphous and aimless, while critics dismiss it as another eruption of hippie anarchism -- complaining the kids, who standing for nothing, want to tear down everything," (Barber 1). In traditional nonviolent action, there is a need for strategic objectives. There was a need for strategic objectives and a strong singular leadership role in order to meet those objectives. According to the research, "Strategy is just as important in nonviolent action as it is in military action," (Sharp 6). Rather, the movement targets an entire philosophy that has allowed for corporate greed to run rampant. In this element, the movement is much different than other protests in a modern context. The movement is different in that it lacks a clearly defined objective that revolves around a single entity or mission. Again, the research posits that "It models a new collectivism, picking up on the sustainable protest village of the movement's Egyptian counterparts, with food, first aid, and a library," (Rushkoff 1). It is not a day-long event, where afterwards the protesters go back to their normal lives. Rather, the Occupy Wall Street movement has taken the concept of the sit in to an extreme by setting up a semi-permanent base where the protest has continued 24/7 since its first days in September of 2011.
Moreover, it features more middle class patrons than any other protests in a modern context as well. The research claims that middle class involvement in protests is often spurred by economic crises (Jenkins & Brents 895). Middle class involvement often increases as the threat of unemployment also increases and encroaches on middle class existence here in the United States (Jenkins & Brents 896). However, middle class involvement has not been seen in protests to this magnitude since the Great Depression. Essentially, the threat of financial distress has reached out to the middle class on such a scale that it provokes many to step up and support the Occupy Wall Street movement. It is also new and innovative in the idea that it is internet based, like the protests in Egypt and Libya. The movement has relied on user-generated content to reach out to the rest of the country in lieu of traditional media coverage. Youtube and Facebook have played crucial roles in helping organize and strengthen the movement itself. According to the research, "we are witnessing America's first true Internet-era movement, which -- unlike civil rights protests, labor marches, or even the Obama campaign -- does not take its cue from a charismatic leader, expresses itself in bumper sticker-length goals and understand itself as having a particular endpoint," (Rushkoff 1).
Those on the front lines are a diverse group of individuals that in many ways reflects the participants in the anti-war protests of the 1960s.. There is a diverse group of young and old, middle and working class, who have come together to unite because of their disdain for what capitalism has become in the United States today. There is a majority of younger adults and college students who are representing the new middle class concerns and values in the time after the recession. This is often typical of modern protest movements in the welfare state (Jenkins & Brents 891). The movement is making the protest experience exciting and fun for the youth that is participating in it; "They come for the people, the excitement, the camaraderie and the sense of purpose they might not be able to find elsewhere," (Rushkoff 1). Still, the movement is thriving on diversity. The involvement of labor unions helps represent a working class voice in the struggle against American greed. Many labor unions began to support the movement, and entered into the nonviolent actions in the labor march on October 5th, 2011 (Rushkoff 1).
Those who sit and protest on the streets of New York are essentially practicing democracy.…