Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Occupy Wall Street: Social Movement or Flash in the Pan?

In the last week, anti-Wall Street protests have begun to attract more media attention. The Occupy Wall Street movement may just catch on, but it's too soon to tell. Two things about Occupy Wall Street bear directly on globalization.

First, one of their key slogans "We are the 99%" capitalizes on the startling fact that the top 1% of income earners in our society earn a significant share of national income--a dynamic that the growth of the financial sector (Wall Street) has aided and abetted.

Second, the Occupy Wall Street page explicitly claims inspiration from the Arab Spring movements--perhaps one of the first times in history that young people in a Western democracy were inspired to go out into the streets by young people in the Arab world. This feedback loop from the Arab world to the United States suggests that global media do have some power to spread contagious ideas of protest and freedom in multiple directions around the globe.

For a little sense of the rather chill vibe down in the financial district in lower Manhattan, check out this video:

Right Here All Over (Occupy Wall St.) from Alex Mallis on Vimeo.

Not exactly violent or scary. It does seem a little vague and unfocused.

Nonetheless, I suspect we'll be hearing more from this group in the weeks to come, as they clarify what it would take for them to go home. See the Occupy Wall Street page for more up-to-date information.  And for a list of specific demands, see this page.

For now, it isn't clear that these protests will rise to the level of being a significant social movement or whether they will fizzle out. Will they drive real political change in our governmental institutions or policies? Or will they occupy unemployed hipsters until the cold weather hits? Either way, I'll be watching them closely.

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