The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement witnessed in recent months is one of the most significant socio-political events to have taken place in the history of the United States of America. Measuring merely by the weight of popular support and enthusiastic participation evinced by the movement, it could be equated with the Civil Rights movement and the Women’s Rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s respectively. But nothing in popular culture currents of recent years would have led to an anticipation of this sudden collective uprising by a majority of American citizens. The protests and public discussions were centered on the flawed policy priorities of the body politic. It also addressed the greed-based actions of Corporate America which put profits ahead of social responsibility. The failures of the political and business establishments have hurt a vast majority of ordinary Americans – the other 99%, as the slogan proclaims.
This research essay will argue that the OWS movement is nothing short of a nation getting in touch with its revolutionary spirit. After all, the short history of the country, starting with its fight for independence, is studded with movements of public collective action that have induced progressive changes in the political, legal and cultural domains. The OWS movement is the most recent in that noble tradition of civil disobedience and collective public action that the country is so proud of. But how history will judge and rate the effectiveness of OWS will depend on how well public grievances are translated into meaningful changes to government policies. Upon it will rest the stability and viability of the country as well as the rest of the world.
Having legitimate grievances is one thing, but to willfully express them against powerful institutions is quite another. It is still hard to believe that this bold first step in the fight against corporate greed had at last been taken. Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan, which is in the vicinity of NYSE, was the site chosen for the historic moment. On 17th of September, 2011, a thousand-strong group of demonstrators showed up to the call to Occupy Wall Street. From that point on, each day, at least a few hundred people took turns to spend the night in the park so as to keep a round-the-clock vigil. Although a few hundred people may not sound like a lot, the very idea to occupy Wall Street was both revolutionary and provocative. ‘We are the 99%’ is a perfect slogan for the movement, for not only did it make clear the situation of gross inequality in wealth, but also suggested the great potential power in the hands of the majority – the power of numbers.
“Over the course of the weeks that followed, many others visited Zuccotti Park, also known as Liberty Square or Liberty Plaza. Once there, it was difficult to remain a bystander or spectator. Everyone was invited to participate directly in the process of determining what Occupy Wall Street was all about, through the democracy of the “General Assembly,” daily meetings at which collective decisions were made in an open, participatory manner.” (Kunstler 991)
A brief study of conditions that precipitated OWS reveals interesting insights. The glorifying symbol of modern day finance is that of the giant bronze statue of the Charging Bull – this is an iconic landmark in Wall Street. In an apt symbolic correspondence, the task undertaken by participants of OWS is nothing short of taming (or at least trying to tame) the raging bull. This exercise on part of the general public was highly warranted, for the economy (both domestic and international) was in a bad way. The major stock market crash of October 2008, with the subsequent bailouts of private banks with public funds, high rate of unemployment, widening gap between the wealthy and the poor were all contributing factors. The atmosphere during September of 2011 was one of discontent and hopelessness “among those who bore the brunt of disastrous financial decisions that appeared to have enriched the few at the expense of the many. To occupy Wall Street was an empowering way to give voice to this outrage. It was also an assertion of control over Wall Street as a symbol, and the power of the people to change its meaning.” (Kunstler 990)