The Occupy Wall Street movement, Fall 2011, was started by a Canadian magazine, Adbusters, “A global network of culture jammers and creatives.” The initiative was quickly endorsed by Anonymous, a well-known online group famous for its hacking and wearing Guy Fawkes masks that are now seen in the Occupy protests. Over 5,000 young people marched on Wall Street on September 17 to “bring justice to the bankers” because “We are the 99%” (the most popular global slogan) and “Wall St.=War Street.” You can see charts graphing income growing income inequality (Dave Gilson and Carolyn Perot, “It’s the Inequality Stupid. Mother Jones Magazine, April 2011. http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/02/income-inequality-in-america-chart-graph.) The protesters recognized their connection to Tahrir Square: “This was absolutely inspired by Tahrir Square, by the Arab Spring movement,” said Tyler Combelic, 27, part of the New York occupation. Egyptian leasers such as Asmaa Mahfouz held teach-ins at Liberty Plaza. Youth leaders from Cairo advised the US youth in October
An entire generation across the globe has grown up realizing, rationally and emotionally, that we have no future in the current order of things. Living under structural adjustment policies and the supposed expertise of international organizations like the World Bank and IMF, we watched as our resources, industries and public services were sold off and dismantled as the “free market” pushed an addiction to foreign goods, to foreign food even. The profits and benefits of those freed markets went elsewhere, while Egypt and other countries in the South found their immiseration [sic] reinforced by a massive increase in police repression and torture.. . .
Our only real advice to you is to continue, keep going and do not stop. Occupy more, find each other, build larger and larger networks and keep discovering new ways to experiment with social life, consensus, and democracy. Discover new ways to use these [public] spaces, discover new ways to hold on to them and never give them up again. Resist fiercely when you are under attack, but otherwise take pleasure in what you are doing, let it be easy, fun even. We are all watching one another now, and from Cairo we want to say that we are in solidarity with you, and we love you all for what you are doing. Comrades from Cairo[i]
The youth movement spread from public squares in Tunisia, to Egypt, Yemen, and Syria, to Israel, to Spain’s “People’s Assemblies” of “indignados” in May and throughout Europe and over 1000 cities in the US and Asia—including Hong Kong and Tokyo.[ii] The occupation of the Wisconsin state legislature was a precursor, although led by unions and people of various ages, as was the costumes and tea bag hats worn at Tea Party demonstrations beginning in 2009—also not youth led.
The youth movements pride themselves on being leaderless and having direct democracy. “None of us are leaders, all of us are leaders” said a demonstrator heard in the video mentioned in the next endnote. Small groups meet and discuss issues and present their conclusions to the larger assembly that includes thousands of participants. In the US they are called working groups and General Assembly. A Facilitation Committee teaches communication techniques. Consensus is arrived at through hand signals, as you can see in a video of the NYC movement in action.[iii] The crowd repeats a speaker’s sentences in General Assembly until everyone hears via the “Human Mike.” Hand signals include a twinkle or “spirit wave” where fingers are wiggled over head to express approval, wrists or elbows chopping down indicates disapproval, and a block with crossed arms means you’ll quit over a certain issue, etc. These techniques spread so similar ones are used in various cities.
The movement also resists having a specific platform of demands, saying it’s not up to them to manifest more economic equality. The media has a hard time dealing with such an amorphous movement, but it protects the demonstrators from being dependent on certain leaders and positions. The encampments usually include a library table, food section, health care section, and childcare, as well as musicians, signs, painted faces and other theater. The demonstrations changed the national discussion from a focus on debt reduction to the unfairness of increasingly severe income inequality, as Michael Moore pointed out when he addressed Occupy Oakland. His documentary on “Capitalism: A Love Story,” (2010) left him discouraged, but helped lay the foundation for the protests, so he’s a popular speaker at these rallies. He now has more hope change can occur because of youth activism. Bank of America rescinded a $5 fee on using debit cards after 300,000 signed an online petition against it and perhaps being proactive in the face of a movement to transfer funds to local credit unions and community banks. Other banks followed. The 69-years-old publisher of Adbusters, Kalle Lasn noted,
The messy, leaderless, demandless movement has launched a national conversation of the likes that we haven’t had in 20 years. That’s as good as it gets! Not every one needs to have a leader with clear demands. That’s the old way of launching revolutions. This revolution is run by the Internet generation, with egalitarian ways of looking at things, and an inclusive process of getting everyone involved. That’s the magic of it.[iv]
I interviewed Occupy Chico’s Anthony Delgardo, age 27, posted on YouTube.[v] He’s an unemployed mechanic who said he’s motivated to support the movement by the fundamental injustice of American business. He said young people are at the forefront of the Occupy protests because they grew up behind computer screens and know how to broadcast the revolution around the world. His emphasis is on becoming self-sufficient with solar power and growing our own organic food so we’re not dependent on big business or government, “non-participation in the way the world is going.” I asked him one way to take power back from the plutocracy: “Ride your bike,” he said. “I’m more hopeful than I’ve been in years,” he concluded.
I attended a meeting to see the process in action. As expected, no one was a leader although a young woman who was new to the group suggested going around the group of 14 to find out why people were there. The participants ranged from two college freshmen, a former Marine, to homeless men who wandered in and out from the nearby city plaza, and a minority who were an ongoing presence since the beginning. Clint, a man who had attended many of the meetings said he was discouraged that no action was taken, but others pointed out the marches that they’d organized, including an upcoming march to banks. Theo said he is working on setting up a time-bank to share skills without exchanging money and that there was a core of around 25 supporters. Clint was afraid the movement was dwindling from its height with about 60 people participating. He held up a chart of an octopus-like structure with many arms focusing on various groups and causes, but no action was taken. To stay current, see websites like www.occupytogether.org that includes global actions.
[ii] This video interviews protesters in NYC, London, Brussels, and Madrid. www.adbusters.org/abtv/occupy-world-st-nyc-everywhere.html
Current coverage of global protests http://www.livestream.com/globalrevolution
[iv] Elizabeth Flock, “Occupy Wall Street: An Interview with Kalle Lasn, the Man Behind it All,” The Washington Post, October 12, 2011.