Guest Contributor: Victoria Flexner on Occupy Wall Street

Occupy Wall Street began on September 17th, 2011 in Zuccotti Park, blocks away from the economic epicenter of America, Wall Street. The movement exploded onto television screens, newspapers, and the medium that proved to be most essential to the success of the 2011 protests, the Internet.

Reactions to the movement were mixed from the beginning. Though any political or social movement can expect criticism, the lack of sympathy, solidarity and respect for the power of the people, personally, has been rather shocking. Most Americans are suffering from the current economic downturn, so why have so many Americans and news sources looked down on this movement in such a negative way?

Fox News correspondents have repeatedly emphasized that OWS protesters want anarchy and the abolition of government.

This is an interesting interpretation of the movement’s objectives considering what OWS really wants is more government; while conservative groups such as the Tea Party preach the benefits of small government, less taxes, and a country free from such atrocities as health care.

Aside from the usual idiocracy of the Palins and the Gingrichs of this country, I was shocked that conservatives were not the only ones responsible for the backlash against Occupy Wall Street.

News sources such as CNN have focused on the use of marijuana by certain protesters and the ‘havoc’ the movement was inflicting on local businesses and New York City traffic. Occupy Wall Street was branded an unemployed-rich-white-kid movement without a leader or a manifesto. Which is entirely false, the movement does in fact have a manifesto: just Google it.

 

Occupy Wall Street is a diverse movement, a factor which has proved to be both a strength and a weakness.

Walking through Zuccotti Park one will find individuals with a myriad of different concerns and grievances, but most fall within the movement’s declaration/manifesto.

Overall, Occupy Wall Street is a forum for Americans who feel as though this country’s current political and economic program is negatively affecting its citizens.

The first day that I went to Zuccotti Park or “Liberty Square” as it has been dubbed, I was confronted with a movement as eclectic as New York City itself.

The protesters ranged from small children to the elderly, African American, Asian, Hispanic, Middle-Eastern and White. There were Church groups present, as well as a local synagogue singing classic patriotic American songs.

There was a table set up amidst the tents serving granola and handing out a Communist newspaper.

There were Vietnam War veterans, Canadians waving a Canadian flag in solidarity and Puerto Ricans doing the same. Drum circles were interspersed throughout the crowd.

The Librarians Union was silently holding up signs advertising their anger with Mayor Bloomberg for cutting funds to libraries across the city. A group of ten year olds from a public school in Harlem had gotten their hands on a mega-phone and were passionately voicing the importance of arts programs in schools.

 

A minister from a church on the upper west side and his congregation had purchased tents for some of the live-in protesters, to shelter them from the wind and the rain.

The NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) were handing out flyers for an upcoming march to the Koch Industries’ headquarters.

One man’s sign read, “I’m so angry I made a sign, I hate making signs!” Another sign read, “Somos el 99%” while another encouraged to “Occupy the hood.”

 

The park was teeming with life and activity, conversations could be struck up at random with perfect strangers and there was a true sense of community in the square.

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However the movement took a drastic change on November 15th, as conservative New York billionaire Mayor Bloomberg had the protesters evicted from Zuccotti Park at 1 am. As Bloomberg stated at a press meeting later that morning, the protesters were evicted in order to ‘clean’ the park – an intriguing excuse, since New York City Department of Sanitation does not usually clean recreational parks at one in the morning with armed police officers, helicopters and pepper spray.

As the Washington Post reported,

‘Once inside the park, the police tore up the tents, and apparently ruined the belongings of the protesters who had turned the park into a makeshift city over the last two months. (Among other ruined items were 5000 books from the park’s library, the protesters’ Twitter feed points out.) Those who resisted were met with batons and pepper spray… New York City Council member Ydanis Rodriguez was arrested and bleeding from the head, according to another council member.’

Now unable to ‘occupy’, the movement, apparently, was over.

Perhaps Occupy Wall Street has been met with so much criticism precisely because it is a first-world protest.

Yes, the quality of life in America is certainly much better than some parts of the globe.

But should this fact eliminate our right to point out the flaws of this country?

No one in the first world criticized Egyptians for protesting against a thirty-year dictatorial regime. Muammar Gaddafi’s retaliation against protesting Libyans provoked a 204 day NATO air strike on the country. And to this day, Syria’s brutal suppression of its own people’s right to protest is condemned by the United Nations.

However the world seems to think that the violation of American citizen’s constitutional rights to free speech and assembly is okay. Yes, it is true that our leaders do not openly shoot at us in the street and no, we do not live in a police state. However, Bloomberg’s actions on November 15th and the corporate media condemnation of the Occupy Wall Street movement resemble the beginning of a slippery slope.

Two days later, fresh out of jail, the protesters of Zuccotti Park and thousands of New Yorkers descended on to Folley Square outside of City Hall.

The spirit of Occupy Wall Street was alive and thriving.

As I stood on the edge of a fountain in the middle of the square, admiring the resilience and dedication of my fellow New Yorkers, I noticed a large banner waving above the heads of the crowd some few hundred feet away.

It read: “YOU CAN’T EVICT US. WE ARE EVERYWHERE”

 

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One comment

  • yoshi
    January 28, 2012 - 7:48 pm | Permalink

    great post vicky, thanks !

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