When a locally based activist group came up with the idea of occupying Wall Street to protest corporate influence on democracy, it wasn’t thinking about setting up camp on the Vancouver street that runs alongside the railway tracks.
The ongoing protests in the heart of New York City’s financial district, which first began on September 17, are partly the work of the Vancouver-based Adbusters Media Foundation, an anti-consumerist group best known for its award-winning, advertisement-free magazine Adbusters. Frustrated by a growing disparity in wealth and the absence of legal repercussions for the bankers behind the recent global financial crisis, it suggested readers take to the streets to demand change.
“We basically floated the idea in mid July into our [email list] and it was spontaneously taken up by all the people of the world,” said Adbusters senior editor Micah White on Monday, the tenth day of the protest. “It just kind of snowballed from there.”
Adbusters suggested Sept. 17 as a starting date to coincide with America’s Constitution Day, and the idea quickly spread online with help from the hacktivist group Anonymous. As with the recent citizen uprisings in Europe and the Middle East, social media played a vital role in spreading awareness of the “leaderless resistance movement,” particularly on Twitter.
“We came up with the idea but independent activists just made it their own,” said White. “They set up an organizing website, starting holding weekly meetings and these are the people who are now pulling it off. They made it their own and ran with it.”
Although the media widely ignored the protest in its early days, the Occupy Wall Street movement has gained new traction and members after a crackdown last Saturday by police. Video of NYPD officers arresting protesters has since gone viral on the Internet, particularly footage that appears to show an officer shooting pepper spray into the faces of several corralled women.
Protesters are also now demanding the end of capital punishment, which brought thousands of people to join them after last week’s controversial execution in Georgia of Troy Davis. White said he expects this will only encourage more people to join the protest.
“From what I hear, actually more people are showing up. It has only increased people’s passion for pulling this off. This is a people’s democracy movement and I think that when you try to crack down on the non-violent democracy movement, what happens is more and more people get excited about it and realize this is something that could actually change things. The main thing we want to see is for people to be in control of their government, not corporations”
What will become of Occupy Wall Street is far from clear. The days are getting colder and protesters have so far been prohibited from setting up tents, although White said they plan to challenge this in court. “The occupiers have a lawyer who will be filing an injunctive relief and hopefully they will be able to set up tents soon.” He added that smaller protests have began springing up in other cities, including Chicago, Boston, Denver and Toronto. No plans have yet been announced for Vancouver.