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Protestors take on Wall Street

Last updated on: September 27, 2011 14:45 IST

Protestors take on Wall Street

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Rajni Bakshi

While the congregation of world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly uptown has been at centre stage of global media coverage, the motley gathering of protestors aiming to occupy Wall Street has been largely under-reported.

So far at least 80 protestors have been arrested during marches near Wall Street.

Describing itself as a "leaderless resistance movement with people of many colours, genders and political persuasions" the Occupy Wall Street protest began on September 17 when hundreds of people began a sit-in at Zuccotti Park, a private park near the financial district.

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Image: So far at least 80 protestors have been arrested.

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Protestors take on Wall Street

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The sit-in began with a march in which banners declared the intention to reclaim Wall Street for the masses.

"We are the 99 per cent that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the one per cent" is the protest's slogan.

Its symbol is the image of an elegant ballerina in a free flowing dance movement perched atop the iconic statue of Wall Street's raging bull.

A rallying call issued by the activist journal, Adbusters, in July has snow-balled into both a ground level protest as well as a spreading on-line mobilization - with people across the US reportedly contributing food, money and equipment.

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Image: The sit-in began with a march.

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Protestors take on Wall Street

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"Like our brothers and sisters in Egypt, Greece, Spain, and Iceland, we plan to use the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic of mass occupation to restore democracy in America" says the protesters' website.

"We also encourage the use of non-violence to achieve our ends and maximize the safety of all participants."

New York police has deployed heavy security, including nets, to block off major roads, to protect the New York Stock Exchange.

BBC reported one 21-year-old protestor, Ryan Reed, as saying that he is upset about an economy and a system that's collapsing.

"The enemy is the big business leaders of Wall Street, the big oil company leaders, the coal company leaders, the big military industrial leaders," he said.

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Image: New York police has deployed heavy security.

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Protestors take on Wall Street

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One of the organizers of the protest, the American anthropologist David Graeber, has described the action on Wall Street as "the beginnings of the defiant self-assertion of a new generation of Americans, a generation who are looking forward to finishing their education with no jobs, no future, but still saddled with enormous and unforgivable debt."

According to various reports, many of the protestors come from the working-class or middle class backgrounds.

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Image: Many of the protestors come from working-class background.

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Protestors take on Wall Street

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These are, wrote Graeber, "kids who did exactly what they were told they should: studied, got into college, and are now not just being punished for it, but humiliated - faced with a life of being treated as deadbeats, moral reprobates.

"Is it really surprising they would like to have a word with the financial magnates who stole their future?"

In an apparently unrelated event across the Atlantic, last weekend, the Christian Council for Monetary Justice held another of its regular open meetings to protest the stranglehold of money power.

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Image: Protestors want to reclaim Wall Street for the masses.

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Protestors take on Wall Street

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Under a banner that said: "Root out Usury", this gathering at a church in Piccadilly, London, identified the seeds of destruction "in the commodifying of land, labour, credit and knowledge, which are patently not in themselves commodities."

The discontent being loudly expressed by Occupy Wall Street is clearly a global phenomenon.

However, in terms of numbers of protesters, the turn-out tends to be disappointing.

The Occupy Wall Street campaign had initially issued a rallying call for at least 20,000 people but no more than 2,000 have shown up at any given time over the last 10 days.

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Image: Discontent being expressed is clearly a global phenomenon.

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Protestors take on Wall Street

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However, a short-fall of numbers is not sufficient reason to dismiss such protests, as the few media reports that appeared have tended to do.

Symbolic protest can sometimes be complete in itself.

For instance, at 9.30 every morning, the protestors have been ringing an opening bell for a 'people's exchange' - as a counter to the opening bell rung at the New York Stock Exchange.

Whether or not people physically turn up to join such a protest many might share this observation made by Amy Goodman, one of the movement's supportive commentators.

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Image: Symbolic protest can sometimes be complete in itself.

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Protestors take on Wall Street

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Goodman wrote in the Guardian: "While the bankers remained secure in their bailed-out banks, outside, the police began arresting protesters. In a just world, with a just economy, we have to wonder: who would be out in the cold? Who would be getting arrested?"

Similar questions have been raised by some who attended the Clinton Global Initiative's glitzy annual event in uptown Manhattan - which took place at precisely the same time that the protestors dug their heals in at  Zuccotti Park.

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Image: Protestors are angry at the way the economy is being run.

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The conference rings hollow to many observers because it is seen as yet another platform of the rich and powerful where good intentions are aplenty but hard questions are consistently ignored.

Much money is committed at such an event for good causes, but there is little room to ask whether all the money that's being handed out is actually solving problems at their root.

A sit-in like Occupy Wall Street will not by itself give us detailed answers on how to address the crisis of both inequity and instability.

But it does create both a physical location and an Internet platform for venting the angst and drumming up energy for doggedly demanding systemic solutions.


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Image: A sit-in creates a platform to drum up energy.

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