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Trying to understand the Occupy Wall Street Movement

The Occupy Wall Street Movement isn’t a headline grabber. They got some initial coverage, but very quickly, coverage of the Occupy movement, rapidly declined. That’s because, simply put, they’re hard to write about. For one thing, while having a range of issues that concern them, they have no agreed-upon agenda. Also, as one participant described their protest, “the movement is purposefully disorganized.” That’s a challenge to anyone who is trying to write a story about them. However, they are, with very few exceptions, peaceful, and if you go to talk to them, as I have in Washington, which, like New York, has been accommodating to the protestors, they’re friendly, good natured, and polite. And make no mistake, they’re serious about their concerns, and what’s more, this is a movement, and a presence in many of our nation’s cities, which months after it began, hasn’t gone away.



The mainstream political establishment doesn’t know how to react. Some, on both the Democratic and Republican side, sense this may be more than a passing fad and they’re watching this protest and this movement with care. They understand some of the issues that are driving it, and while, not saying much, they aren’t dismissing the concerns of the Occupy protestors out of hand. However, some aren’t so deliberate or thoughtful in their reaction. A number of commentators consider the Occupy movement to be nothing more than a bunch of vagrants, or harking back to the 1960’s, just a bunch of students, living on Mom and Dad’s dime, who should be back in school, or out looking for work.

Some, like the President, knowing that the Occupy movement has a following on the Democratic Party’s left, has given them some attention. But that’s about it. Arguably, the President, and even the Democratic Party’s left wing don’t know what to make of the Occupy movement either.

So, just what is the Occupy Wall Street Movement? Well, sorry, I can’t answer that question in one simple statement. Since they don’t publish a statement of principles, or any demands, and what’s more, don’t have any one in charge, that’s a tough one. But there are some themes, and some frustrations, that in this recession, which feels like a depression, shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.

While the Occupy movement is in the other cities, Wall Street gets their particular attention. With so many people out of work, and the economy in such dire straits, one of their hot button issues is compensation for fund managers on Wall Street. Foreclosures and bankruptcies haven’t diminished in the rest of the economy, but if you’re one of the top 100 fund managers, collectively you managed to “earn” $18 Billion last year. Also, many of them wonder why, when there was so much fraud that fueled the housing bubble and its subsequent collapse, why more people, in the financial services industry and in government aren’t going to jail. They also readily point to the fact that the financial services industry represents one of the largest contributors to both political parties.

And then there is the issue of income disparity.  This theme can be found in a number of the Occupy Movement’s supporting websites. They note that during the past ten years, when the economy was supposedly booming, the average family income, adjusted for inflation, didn’t move. On top of that, the disparity between the richest Americans and the rest of us got substantially larger. While that may not seem particularly important to many, they’re right in noting that it represents a major change in our society. From the end of World War II until the mid 1990’s, wealth in the United States, while never evenly distributed, was nonetheless nicely balanced across the board. Middle class and working class Americans got a healthy share of the nation’s growth. Now, nearly 50% of the growth in earnings in the U.S. are going to just 1% of the population.

Also, the Occupy folks, voicing concerns many of us have, are frustrated by unemployment, foreclosures, loss of health care coverage (they generally don’t have a position on the President’s health care plan one way or the other), and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Also, while their numbers are dominated by students, they also include recently unemployed people, a surprisingly large number of veterans, and people who have lost their homes because of foreclosure. In a nutshell they feel that things aren’t right and that something needs to be done. And while most Americans keep their distance from supporting fringe protest groups, the Occupy movement, as disorganized as it is, has managed, rather remarkably, to capture a lot of what’s fueling the collective worry and political angst of many Americans.

You may reach David Kerr at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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