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Occupy Wall Street movement began on September 17, 2011 in Zuccotti Park in New York, NY. It has continued to be in session in multiple cities around the world, with no set end date in sight. The primary goals of the protest are to raise public awareness of corporate greed, banking sector malfeasance, corruption, and extreme income inequality. The general feeling of the American populace is that the banking sector never suffered for its mistakes in 2008, and has since then been one of the only sectors of the American economy still earning a year-to-year profit. The commonly adopted term for Occupy Wall Street is the slogan "The 99% versus the 1%." This is in reference to the immense growth of the upper class in the past twenty years, while the middle class has seen their economic status stagnate for decades, and in some cases even shrink.
With such a large agenda, one might think that the protest is closely managed with a defined leadership, however this has not proven to be the case. There is no static leader of the movement, instead the movement works on consensus basis. This process is slow and arduous, but it allows each participant of the protest to remain involved in the central planning of the movement as a whole, which is critical to maintaining interest in the movement, while retaining a long-term presence in the streets. Music is present nearly all hours of the day and night, a great motivational technique and a morale booster for the people present. The artists range from heavy metal bands to street rappers to rhythmic exotic beats. In addition to music, celebrities have also graced the protest with their presence, celebrities such as Michael Moore, Kanye West, Roseanne Barr, and bands Anti-Flag and Radiohead.
Purpose and Thesis
From the above description, one can see just how much of an impact this form of political participation has had not only upon the premises, but upon America as a whole. An entire generation, lost, and without guidance, has not only come together, but has made itself public all over the world, and has truly changed the face of the American generation. The paragraphs below will expand upon the movement and its origins, as well as discuss how it has been covered by the media, and political theories relating to it, in general.
First, it is important to speak about political movements, as well as how and why they take place. From what we have witnessed all over the world, including in the Arab Spring in Egypt, Libya, and other Middle Eastern countries, it has become clear that protests and other form of political participation have a very important role in today's world, and not just in America. Political participation is defined as a right, and it is upheld by the United States Constitution, in the Bill of Rights. Political participation is inevitably a citizen's means to influence policy, and this is done through his or her ability to speak his or her mind. Thus, the right to political participation is closely linked to the right to free speech. This is important to recognize, for it is not always possible for citizens to exercise these rights.
According to observations by various individuals, political participation in general takes place everyday in America. Much of this participation is done, at times, through voting, joining a political party, or a non-governmental advocacy group. Yet there is another form of participation that often has a great impact, and this is the form described above, protesting or demonstrating.[footnoteRef:1] According to Klein (2005), "the foundational legal articulation of this right can be found in the UN's 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and it has been further formalized and elaborated in later treaties, most notably the 1976 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. As currently implemented by the UN, various operating entities assess signatory states' respect for this right and, when violations are determined to have occurred, may call on states to changes their practices." With both the constitution protecting the right to free speech and participation in politics, as well as with Klein's analysis of the internationally protected right to protest, it is hard to argue against this. For this reason, theoretically, without any other analytical aspect, the Wall Street Protests are legitimate. [1: Klein, Hans. (2005). The Right to Political Participation and the Information Society. Global Democracy Conference. Retrieved November 13, 2011, from,
An Analysis of the Protest
There are many aspects to a protest. Some may focus on the positives, others on the negatives. There is also the aspect of individual participation, and the coherence of the group, as well as the interaction between the two, all of which are important.[footnoteRef:2] Despite the seemingly encouraging descriptions and definitions above, all advocating the importance of political participation, many studies also show the dark side of protests, and their ineffectiveness. In fact, when one looks at the Wall Street Protests, one must ask if they have, in fact, first and foremost, achieved their agenda. Yet one will soon realize that there is no agenda so, in fact the protests are there to answer what questions and solve what problems? It is hard to answer these questions, for the protesters have not truly shown a unified agenda. Furthermore, it is important to note that there is a problem, as these protests demonstrate, but that this problem, especially in New York, is exacerbate in the public sphere by people camping out in public spaces and the necessary police presence that comes with it, which is taken away from places that truly need it. If a crime is committed in the Bronx, for instance yet a police officer is on Wall Street, it will take him quite some time to make the trek. Thus, there is a downside to protests if they are lengthy and ineffective.[footnoteRef:3] [2: Schussman, Alan and Soule, Sarah. (2005). Process and Protest: Accounting for Individual Protest Participation. Social Forces. 84(2). Pp. 1083-1108. ] [3: Olafsson, Jon. (2007). Defiance: A Comment on the Logic of Protest. Central and East European Online Library; (4). Pp. 432-442. ]
Media coverage is essential for any protest ideas to disseminate. Yet in the current protests, it has been difficult to cover any particular ideas. The main question of this section will be to respond to how these protests are portrayed in the media, but there are two more questions that are noteworthy. The first relates to examining who the participants in the protests are.[footnoteRef:4] This was briefly touched upon in the introduction by the statement that mostly young, educated and unemployed people are taking part. Yet it is important to note that despite the lack of cohesive, coherent messages a movement that started with only a few individuals has spread worldwide, to include individuals in the same age groups, but also illustrious figures and celebrities who have "lent a hand" by acknowledging or participating in the protests. One could then say that the protests are effective, despite their inability to create true change or help anyone. This success can also be measure by President Obama's recognition of the protests. Though he has not truly expressed a lengthy opinion on it, he did recognize that the protesters show legitimate concerns. [4: Boyle, Michael and Schmierbach, Mike. (2009). Media Use and Protest: The Role of Mainstream and Alternative Media Use in Predicting Traditional and Protest Participation. Communication Quarterly; 57(1). Pp. 1-17. ]
The Occupy Wall Street Movement has come to depend on the involvement of the media, for better or worse. The ultimate goal of the movement is to spread its message of fighting the growing income inequality in America, as well as holding banks accountable to their actions. Whether a media outlet is in favor of the protestor's message or against it, the protest requires a constant presence in the minds of Americans in order to have its greatest impact. Likewise, a large protest like Occupy Wall Street comes around only a few times a generation, and is big news for these large media organizations. It is therefore a symbiotic relationship between the protest and the media, both feeding off each other in order to create new content for the American public to consume.
Conservative media outlets have criticized the lack of effectiveness of the protest, pointing specifically to its non-structured nature and consensus decision making. Typically supporting the business community and shunning subsidies and support for the poor, conservatives feel that there is a threat inherent in the Occupy Wall Street movement, and as a result attempt to undermine its legitimacy in the eyes of news outlets. Flashes of violence related to the protests, such as what has happened in Oakland, California, has been sharply criticized on conservative talk radio and television broadcasts. Fox News, in particular, takes specific time to point out the lack of hygiene in Zuccotti Park, and pokes fun at the "foolish"…[continue]
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