Casting about for news on yesterday’s start of the Wall Street Occupation, I give you one story from commondreams.org leading up to the protest, and a second story from bikyamasr.com that analyzes its modestly successful start. For updates and the group’s philosophy and strategy, go to www.occupywallst.org.
by Michael Saba
September 17, 2011
It worked in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Now, taking their cue from social-media fueled uprisings in places like Egypt and Iran, a band of online activists hopes it will work on Wall Street.
Kalle Lasn, co-founder of the counterculture magazine AdBusters, has taken to Twitter and other websites to help organize a campaign encouraging tens of thousands of Americans to hold a nonviolent sit-in Saturday in Lower Manhattan, the heart of the U.S. financial district.
This past spring and summer saw a massive groundswell of populist demonstrations against authoritarian regimes in North Africa and the Middle East — the Arab Spring of 2011.
In Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and Syria, protesters took to the streets and occupied public spaces to protest stagnant economies, lack of freedom of expression and regimes that seemed more concerned with consolidating power than addressing the needs of the people.
Each of these revolutions began differently, but they all were organized and fueled by tech-savvy social media users, particularly on Facebook and Twitter. Lasn now wants to use the Internet for a protest in the United States.
“There’s a very visceral anger against the financial community,” Lasn said. “Many people feel that these people who are financial fraudsters, who basically got away with it, have yet to be brought to justice… It seems like we the people now have to congregate on Wall Street and other financial districts around the world and force the global economic system to move in a better, more just direction.”
Adbusters’ protest campaign — with the hashtag #occupywallstreet — began in July with the launch of a simple campaign website calling for a march through the streets of Lower Manhattan and a sit-in at the New York Stock Exchange, just as demonstrators did in Tunis’ November 7 Square and Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
The campaign got a sizable boost in August from the hacktivist group Anonymous, which released a short video urging its supporters to participate in the sit-in.
Since then, the movement has seen the addition of planned protests in other countries, including Japan, Israel, Canada and a half-dozen European nations.
The aim of #occupywallstreet is to draw 20,000 protestors to New York’s financial district, although Lasn hopes for as many as 90,000.
“In Tunisia and in Egypt, the Internet was used to organize surprising numbers of people to get out into the streets and start a radical, democratic movement for regime change,” Lasn said. “Of course, the situation here in America and many European countries is quite different. We’re not living under a torturous dictatorship, for one.
“Nonetheless, there’s a feeling that the global financial system, the heart of which is in the U.S., in New York, that this system is somehow having its way with us,” he said. “There’s a feeling that we need a revolution in the way that our economy is run, the way that Washington is run.”
This isn’t, Lasn stresses, an excuse for rioting and looting like the world recently witnessed in the United Kingdom. It’s a call for radical change, but in the tradition of nonviolent protesters like Mahatma Gandhi, he says. If protests turn violent, he fears the message will be lost.
“What we are hoping for is to have a very large number of people turn up in Lower Manhattan and start walking toward Wall Street peacefully, signs in hand,” Lasn said. “If we have peaceful assemblies and debates about what our demands to President Obama should be, then bit by bit we can create a situation that will rival what happened in Egypt.”
“That would be a wonderful, energizing and positive moment to feel like we the people are in charge,” he said.
by Joseph Mayton
September 18, 2011
It’s been referred to as an attempt to recreate Egypt’s Tahrir Square protests or Iran’s protest movement, but the continued protests on Wall Street are uniquely American in nature. They are surprisingly good spirited and the activists have articulated their demands quite well and have formed a united front for their cause.
In an attempt to “copy” what many believe were successful movements in Iran and Egypt using social media, organizers are also taking to the online “airwaves” in an effort to spur change in America’s financial center.
Kalle Lasn, co-founder of the venerable counterculture magazine AdBusters, took to the micro-blogging website Twitter and other websites to help organize a campaign encouraging tens of thousands of Americans to have a nonviolent sit-in on Saturday in lower Manhattan.
Despite the calls, eye witnesses told Bikyamasr.com that only around 1,000 people were present for the demonstration, which continued into Sunday morning after a large number of protesters decided to follow their Egyptian kin by sleeping on the streets.
Dan Friedman, who lives in the area, told Bikyamasr.com that “there were about 300ish people left, many of whom were sleeping on cardboard, in sleeping bags, and
in one or two cases in tents or tarps.”
He added that “some were awake playing music and chanting.”
The rally, dubbed #OccupyWallStreet on social networks, aims to tackle what protesters call “outrageous” greed on Wall Street, “which is hurting the American and global economy.”
They argue that this greed led to the destruction of the American economy and spurred the global recession.
Late on Saturday, police began to form on the outskirts of where the demonstrators had set up a makeshift “tent city” of sorts, and fears began to emerge of a possibly police crackdown.
“A huge group of police showed up, marched in file, and assembled as if they were going to somehow organize and do something to break up the protest, but they did not,” Friedman said.
“There were several cops in white shirts directing the blue shirts around and positioning them in various places around the protest,” he added.
Interestingly, the “Occupy Wall Street” protests against corporate greed fell victim to online exaggeration. Friedman said that throughout Saturday, Twitter was abreast with “local” reports saying tens of thousands had joined in the demonstrations, “but I see maybe 500 to 1,000 max.”
At one point, people were retweeting that 500,000 activists had joined the movement.
At the end of the day, social media was not responsible for Egypt’s successful ousting of President Hosni Mubarak, instead it was the grit of the average Egyptian, who brushed aside fear of a violent response from the government to demand their rights as citizens.
On Wall Street, one protester who works for a major firm, said that “at the end of the day it will be the people who make things change and we should have learned through the Egypt example that social media by itself will not get the job done.”
The man, who asked not to be named due to fear of being fired, said that “this is why we are going to stay as long as we can and get ideas to be heard.”
On Sunday morning, as protesters awoke, images again began to be transmitted on social networks, in an effort to increase public awareness and gain support. The demonstrators have said they will stay at least through the weekend in an effort to show their will to demand change to America’s corporate leaders.