Occupy Wall Street

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Planning session in Thomkins Square Park, September 3, 2011

This article is about the protests in New York City. For the wider movement, see "Occupy" protests.

Occupy Wall Street
Part of the "Occupy" protests
Poster depicting a female ballerina pirouetting on the back of the Charging Bull statue on Wall Street; on the street behind her, a line of gas-masked rioters struggle through smoke. Text on the poster reads: "What is our one demand? #OCCUPYWALLSTREET September 17th. Bring Tent."
Adbusters poster promoting the start date of the occupation, September 17.
Date September 17, 2011 (2011-09-17) – ongoing
(3085 days)
Location Worldwide
Status Ongoing with "occupy" movements having formed in other cities. See: List of "Occupy" protest locations.
Causes Wealth inequality, Corporate influence of government, Social Democracy, inter alia.
Zuccotti Park

Other activity in NYC:

  • 2,000+ marchers
    (march on police headquarters, October 2, 2011)[1]
  • 700+ marchers
    (crossing Brooklyn Bridge, October 3, 2011)[2]
  • 15,000+ marchers
    (Lower Manhattan solidarity march, October 5, 2011)[3]
  • 6,000+ marchers
    (Times Square recruitment center march, October 15, 2011)[4]
Arrests: 992[citation needed]

Occupy Wall Street (OWS) was a series of mass protests in New York City based in Zuccotti Park in the Wall Street financial district. The protests were initiated by a call by the Canadian activist group Adbusters.[5] They mainly protested social and economic inequality, corporate greed, corporate power and influence over government (particularly from the financial services sector), and of lobbyists. The participants' slogan "We are the 99%" refered to the difference in the U.S. between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of the population. The protests, planning sessions, and its electronic communications were monitored by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as events posing a risk of "domestic terrorism." Information gathered was shared during the period of the protests with businesses, local governments and universities.[6]

The original protest began on September 17, 2011, and by October 9, similar demonstrations were either ongoing or had been held in 70 major cities and over 600 communities in the U.S. Internationally, other "Occupy" protests have modeled themselves after Occupy Wall Street, in over 900 cities worldwide.


A chart showing the disparity in income distribution in the United States.[7][8] Wealth inequality and income inequality have been central concerns among OWS protesters.[9][10][11] CBO data shows that in 1980, the top 1% earned 9.1% of all income, while in 2006 they earned 18.8% of all income.[12]

In mid-2011, the Canadian-based group Adbusters Media Foundation, best known for its advertisement-free anti-consumerist magazine Adbusters, proposed a peaceful occupation of Wall Street to protest corporate influence on democracy, address a growing disparity in wealth, and the absence of legal repercussions behind the recent global financial crisis. [13]< According to the senior editor of the magazine, “[they] basically floated the idea in mid-July into our [email list] and it was spontaneously taken up by all the people of the world, it just kind of snowballed from there.”[13] They promoted the protest with a poster featuring a dancer atop Wall Street's iconic Charging Bull Wp→.[14][15] Also in July, they stated that, "Beginning from one simple demand – a presidential commission to separate money from politics – we start setting the agenda for a new America."[16] Activists from Anonymous also encouraged its followers to take part in the protest which increased the attention it received calling protesters to "flood lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street."[17][18]

Adbusters' Kalle Lasn Wp→, when asked why it took three years after Lehman Brothers Wp→' implosion for people to storm the streets said:

When the financial meltdown happened, there was a feeling that, "Wow, things are going to change. Obama is going to pass all kinds of laws, and we are going to have a different kind of banking system, and we are going to take these financial fraudsters and bring them to justice." There was a feeling like, "Hey, we just elected a guy who may actually do this." In a way, there wasn't this desperate edge. Among the young people there was a very positive feeling. And then slowly this feeling that he's a bit of a gutless wonder slowly crept in, and now we're despondent again.[19]

Although it was originally proposed by Adbusters magazine, the demonstration has no clearly identifiable leadership.[20] Other groups began to join the protest, including the NYC General Assembly and U.S. Day of Rage.[21] The protests have brought together people of many political positions. Professor Dorian Warren from Columbia University Wp→ has described the movement as the first anti-authoritarian populist movement in the United States.[22] A report in CNN Wp→ said that protesters "got really lucky" when gathering at Zuccotti Park since it was private property and police could not legally force them to move off it; in contrast, police have authority to remove protesters without permits from city parks.[23]

Prior to the protest's beginning on September 17, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg Wp→ said in a press conference, "People have a right to protest, and if they want to protest, we'll be happy to make sure they have locations to do it."[21] The protests have been compared to "the movements that sprang up against corporate globalization at the end of 1990s, most visibly at the World Trade Organization summit in Seattle,"[24] and also to the World Social Forum,[25] a series in opposition to the World Economic Forum, sharing similar origins.[26][27]

We are the 99%

The term, "We are the 99%" is a political slogan, Internet meme and implicit economic claim used by demonstrators involved in the "Occupy" protests. It is intended as a statement of a trend, since the 1970s, for wealth and income to become concentrated within the top 1% of the United States population. According to the Congressional Budget Office Wp→, between 1979 and 2007, incomes of the top 1% of Americans have grown by an average of 275%, versus just 40% for the 60 percent of Americans who are in the middle of the income scale.[28][29][30][31][32][33] Since 1979, average pre-tax income for the bottom 90% of households decreased by $900, and that of the top 1% increased by over $700,000, as federal taxation became less progressive.[33][34] Over the last 30 years, the top 1% bore a smaller percentage of the tax burden and the 400 taxpayers with the highest incomes saw their income increase by 392% and their tax rate go down 37%.[35][36]


The protesters include persons of a variety of political orientations, including liberals,[37] political independents,[38] anarchists,[38] socialists,[37] libertarians,[37][38] and environmentalists.[39] At the protest's start, the majority of the demonstrators were young, mostly because the social networks through which the demonstrators spread their message are primarily used by younger people.[37][38][40] However, as the protest grew the age of the protesters became more diverse.[41] Religious beliefs are diverse as well, with both Muslim and Jewish services and events held at the OWS location.[42] .[37] On October 10 the Associated Press reported that "there’s a diversity of age, gender and race" at the protest.[41] Some news organizations have compared the protest to a left-leaning version of the Tea Party protests.[43] Some left-leaning academics and activists expressed concern that it may become co-opted by the Democratic party.[44][45]

A crowd of protesters engaging in the 'human microphone' on September 30

According to a survey of Zucotti Park protesters by the Baruch College School of Public Affairs published on October 19, of 1,619 web respondents, 1/3 were older than 35, half were employed full-time, 13% were unemployed and 13% earned over $75,000. 27.3% of the respondents called themselves Democrats, 2.4% called themselves Republicans, while the rest, 70%, called themselves independents[46]

On Oct. 10 and 11, the polling firm Penn, Schoen & Berland Wp→ interviewed nearly 200 protesters.[47] Half (52%) have participated in a political movement before, 98% would support civil disobedience to achieve their goals, and 31% would support violence to advance their agenda. Most are employed; 15% are unemployed. Most had supported Obama; now they are evenly divided. 65% say government has a responsibility to guarantee access to affordable health care, a college education, and a secure retirement. They support raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans, and are divided on whether the bank bailouts were necessary.[47] In the Wall Street Journal, Douglas Schoen wrote that the protesters have "a deep commitment to left-wing policies: opposition to free-market capitalism and support for radical redistribution of wealth, intense regulation of the private sector, and protectionist policies to keep American jobs from going overseas."[47] However, other authors said Schoen misrepresented his results. When asked, "What frustrates you the most about the political process in the United States?," 30% said, "Influence of corporate/moneyed/special interests." Only 6% said "Income inequality" and 3% said, "Our democratic/capitalist system." When asked, "What would you like to see the Occupy Wall Street movement achieve?," 35% said "Influence the Democratic Party the way the Tea Party has influenced the GOP" and 11% said, "Break the two-party duopoly." Only 4% said "Radical redistribution of wealth."[48][49][50]

Demands and goals

Although the movement is not in complete agreement on its message and goals, it does have a message which is fairly coherent, according to Bloomberg Businessweek Wp→:

They want more and better jobs, more equal distribution of income, less profit (or no profit) for banks, lower compensation for bankers, and more strictures on banks with regard to negotiating consumer services such as mortgages and debit cards. They also want to reduce the influence that corporations—financial firms in particular—wield in politics, and they want a more populist set of government priorities: bailouts for student debtors and mortgage holders, not just for banks.[51]

Initially journalists such as Shannon Bond for the Financial Times Wp→ had said it was hard to discern a unified aim for the movement. As of late October, Adbusters has been trying to "rally it around a single, clear demand" for a Robin Hood tax, with a global march in support of the tax planned for October 29th.[52] They have also called for the the reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall Act.[53] The movement has been compared to the Situationists and the Protests of 1968, although according to Adbusters co-founder Kalle Lasn, this time the "stakes are much higher". [54] Activists have used web technologies and social media like mIRC Wp→, Facebook Wp→, Twitter Wp→, and Meetup Wp→ to coordinate the events. Indymedia have been helping the movement with communications, saying there have been conference calls on skype Wp→ with participants from up to 80 locations. Shannon Bond reports the movement has been trying to create more efficient forms of organization, but that no universal consensus for doing so has yet emerged. [55]


According to Fordham University Wp→ communications professor Paul Levinson Wp→, "Occupy Wall Street" and similar movements, symbolize another rise of direct democracy where people collectively make decisions for themselves without having elected leaders that has not actually been seen since ancient times.[56] According to Fordham University sociologist Heather Gautney, while the organization calls itself leaderless, the protest in Zuccotti Park has discernible "organizers."

New York City General Assembly

The General Assembly meets in Washington Square Park on October 8
The New York City General Assembly (NYCGA) is OWS' main decision-making body. A general assembly is a form of horizontal decision making developed in Spain by the indignados.[57] At its meetings the various OWS committees discuss their thoughts and needs, and the meetings are open to the public for both attendance and speaking. The meetings are without formal leadership, although certain members routinely act as moderators. Volunteers take minutes of the meetings so that organizers who are not in attendance can be kept up-to-date.[58] A number of innovative mechanisms such as hand signals and the progressive stack are utilized in order to facilitate participation:[59][60]
We abide by two important principles. The first is that we take progressive stack. This means the stack taker will reorder the list of people who want to speak by prioritizing traditionally marginalized voices. The second principle is a self-imposed principle called step-up, step-back. Take note of the privilege in your life and if you have been traditionally encouraged to make your voice heard in society, we invite you to step back, and if you have been traditionally discouraged from making your voice heard, we invite you to step up.[60]
Fingers up, wiggling means “I feel good.” Hands horizontal, fingers wiggling, means “I feel okay.” Hands down, fingers wiggling, means “I do not feel good.” A “C” means point of clarification, when you have a question that pertains to what’s being said. Finger pointed up means point of information, that you have pertinent info about what’s being said. Finger up, pumping, means speak up. A triangle means point of process, when there’s something conflicting in the process and it needs attention. A block signal, an X with your arms is very serious. Use during a proposal when you have moral ethical or safety issue with what’s being proposed. You are also able to stand down if your block is something you’re willing to forgo to allow the process to continue. Fingers rolling means wrap it up. Use this with compassion.[60]


  1. "Hundreds of Occupy Wall Street protesters arrested", October 2, 2011. Retrieved on October 2, 2011. 
  2. 700 Arrested After Wall Street Protest on N.Y.'s Brooklyn Bridge. Fox News Channel. URL accessed on October 1, 2011.
  3. Gabbatt, Adam. "Occupy Wall Street: protests and reaction Thursday 6 October", October 6, 2011. Retrieved on October 7, 2011. 
  4. Crain's New York Business, October 17, 2011, “Wall Street protests span continents, arrests climb“ http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20111017/ECONOMY/111019895
  5. http://www.npr.org/2011/10/20/141526467/exploring-occupy-wall-streets-adbuster-origins
  6. "F.B.I. Counterterrorism Agents Monitored Occupy Movement, Records Show" article by Michael S. Schmidt and Colin Moynihan in The New York Times December 24, 2012
  7. "Tax Data Show Richest 1 Percent Took a Hit in 2008, But Income Remained Highly Concentrated at the Top." Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Accessed October 2011.
  8. “By the Numbers.” Demos.org. Accessed October 2011.
  9. Alessi, Christopher (2011). Occupy Wall Street's Global Echo. Council on Foreign Relations. URL accessed on October 17, 2011.
  10. Jones, Clarence Occupy Wall Street and the King Memorial Ceremonies. The Huffington Post. URL accessed on October 17, 2011.
  11. Chrystia Freeland. "Wall Street protesters need to find their 'sound bite'", October 14, 2011. Retrieved on October 17, 2011. 
  12. Michael Hiltzik. "Occupy Wall Street shifts from protest to policy phase", October 12, 2011. Retrieved on October 17, 2011. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 Fleming, Andrew Adbusters sparks Wall Street protest Vancouver-based activists behind street actions in the U.S. The Vancouver Courier. URL accessed on September 30, 2011.
  14. Beeston, Laura (October 11, 2011). "The Ballerina and the Bull: Adbusters' Micah White on 'The Last Great Social Movement'". The Link (newspaper) Wp→. http://thelinknewspaper.ca/article/1951. Retrieved October 12, 2011. 
  15. Schneider, Nathan Occupy Wall Street: FAQ. The Nation. URL accessed on October 12, 2011.
  16. Adbusters, Adbusters, July 13, 2011; accessed September 30, 2011
  17. Saba, Michael. "Twitter #occupywallstreet movement aims to mimic Iran", CNN tech, September 17, 2011. Retrieved on September 17, 2011. 
  18. Adbusters Anonymous Joins #OCCUPYWALLSTREET "Wall Street, Expect Us!" says video communique.. Adbusters. URL accessed on October 9, 2011.
  19. The Tyee – Adbusters' Kalle Lasn Talks About OccupyWallStreet. Thetyee.ca. URL accessed on October 13, 2011.
  20. "US protesters rally to occupy Wall Street", September 17, 2011. Retrieved on September 17, 2011. 
  21. 21.0 21.1 "'Occupy Wall Street' to Turn Manhattan into 'Tahrir Square'", IBTimes New York, September 17, 2011. Retrieved on October 10, 2011. 
  22. "Occupy Wall Street Emerges as "First Populist Movement" on the Left Since the 1930s", Democracy Now!, October 10, 2011. Retrieved on October 22, 2011. 
  23. Batchelor, Laura. "Occupy Wall Street lands on private property", CNNMoney, October 6, 2011. Retrieved on October 7, 2011. “Many of the Occupy Wall Street protesters might not realize it, but they got really lucky when they elected to gather at Zuccotti Park in downtown Manhattan” 
  24. "Occupy Wall St. Learns From Globalization Protests – Room for Debate", The New York Times, October 6, 2011. Retrieved on October 16, 2011. 
  25. By Derrick O'Keefe. We can't afford to waste this moment: October 15 and beyond. rabble.ca. URL accessed on October 16, 2011.
  26. 1999 Seattle protests gave birth to global movement|28Nov09. Socialist Worker. URL accessed on October 16, 2011.
  27. Unit, Research The Economics and Politics of the World Social Forum: Lessons for the Struggle against 'Globalisation'. Globalresearch.ca. URL accessed on October 16, 2011.
  28. Hiltzik, Michael (October 12, 2011.) “Occupy Wall Street shifts from protest to policy phase.” Los Angeles Times. Accessed October 2011.
  29. Johnston, David Cay (March 29, 2007.) "Income Gap Is Widening, Data Shows." The New York Times. Accessed October 2011.
  30. "By the Numbers." Demos.org. Accessed October 2011.
  31. CBO: Top 1% getting exponentially richer, CBS News October 25, 2011
  32. Trends in the Distribution of Household Income Between 1979 and 2007, a CBO study October 2011
  33. 33.0 33.1 "Tax Data Show Richest 1 Percent Took a Hit in 2008, But Income Remained Highly Concentrated at the Top." Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Accessed October 2011.
  34. Top Earners Doubled Share of Nation’s Income, Study Finds New York Times By Robert Pear, October 25, 2011
  35. Income Inequality Is the Achilles Heel in the GOP Strategy to Demonize Occupy Wall Street Mitchell Bard in Huffington Post October 26, 2011
  36. It's the Inequality, Stupid By Dave Gilson and Carolyn Perot in Mother Jones, March/April 2011 Issue
  37. 37.0 37.1 37.2 37.3 37.4 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named huffington_post
  38. 38.0 38.1 38.2 38.3 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Kleinfield
  39. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Merchant
  40. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named christianpost
  41. 41.0 41.1 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named LIP
  42. (2011). Religion claims its place in Occupy Wall Street. Boston University.
  43. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named thedailybeast
  44. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named yahoo
  45. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Dems_Co-Opt_Occupy_Wall_St.
  46. The Demographics Of Occupy Wall Street BY Sean Captain, Fast Company, Oct 19, 2011
  47. 47.0 47.1 47.2 Polling the Occupy Wall Street Crowd: In interviews, protesters show that they are leftists out of step with most American voters. Yet Democrats are embracing them anyway. By Douglas Schoen, Wall Street Journal, October 18, 2011
  48. Doug Schoen Grossly Misrepresents His Own Poll Results To Smear Occupy Wall Street By Judd Legum, Think Progress,October 18, 2011
  49. Survey: Many Occupy Wall Street protesters are unhappy Democrats who want more influence, By Azi Paybarah, Capital New York, Oct. 18, 2011
  50. Who Occupies? A Pollster Surveys the Protesters By Aaron Rutkoff, Wall Street Journal, October 19, 2011
  51. Occupy Wall Street: It’s Not a Hippie Thing By Roger Lowenstein, Bloomberg Businessweek Wp→ October 27, 2011
  52. Shannon Bond. Obama extends support for protesters. ((registration required)) The Financial Times Wp→. URL accessed on 2011-10-21.
  53. http://www.npr.org/2011/10/17/141427331/op-ed-occupy-wall-street-protesters-goals
  54. Ben Piven. Occupy Wall Street: All day, all week. Aljazeera. URL accessed on 2011-10-21.
  55. Shannon Bond. Obama extends support for protesters. ((registration required)) The Financial Times Wp→. URL accessed on 2011-10-28.
  56. Does 'Occupy Wall Street' have leaders? Does it need any?. The Christian Science Monitor. URL accessed on October 25, 2011.
  57. This Changes Every Thing, Berrett-Koehler (2011), edited by Sarah van Gelder and the staff of YES! Magazine, Chapter 1, pages 16 to 21, "How Occupy Wall Street Really Got Started" Andy Kroll, first published in Mother Jones, October 17, 2011
  58. Occupy Wall Street Expands, Tensions Mount Over Structure International Business Times by Jeremy B. White, October 25, 2011
  59. Glossary of hand signals
  60. 60.0 60.1 60.2 boilerplate in the minutes of the General Assembly, archived at http://www.webcitation.org/62qcQtwPg

External links and further reading

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