By Morgan Watkins
‘We are the 99 percent’ is the cry of Americans who have continued to occupy New York's financial district in protest against continued “corporate greed”.
Protestors have been staging marches and sit-ins for 18 days to express their frustrations at the current practices within the Western financial sector. Like the protests in the Arab Spring, it is a leaderless movement – but unlike the Middle East and North Africa, it is not looking to topple the Government.
Instead, the demonstrators are enraged by the current situation, where corporate executives on Wall Street continue to collect huge bonuses from government stimulus while most families live under the burden of high-interest debt and struggle to afford necessities.
The current economic climate in which these issues occur is the result of sustained pressure following the 2008 financial crisis. Many protestors believe the Wall Street traders are primarily responsible for the collapse through their high-risk lending and property speculations, which are perceived to have made the economy grow falsely during the Bush administration.
As protests have continued over the past number of days, the New York Police Department (NYPD) has moved to contain protestors, including the use of force where perceived necessary.
A prominent example of police action was captured on film, where NYPD officer Anthony Bologna is shown pepper-spraying demonstrators.
Director of New York Civil Liberties Union Donna Lieberman said in response to the footage, “There's no excuse for using pepper spray in the faces of peaceful demonstrators whether or not they are engaging in minor disorderly conduct”.
The action was condemned by protestors on occupywallst.org, which said the actions were “unprofessional” and an “abuse of power”. However the site also notes that “when approached as individuals, members of the NYPD have expressed solidarity with our cause... it has been inspiring to receive this support”.
Additionally, 700 protestors were arrested on Saturday afternoon local time for unlawfully obstructing traffic as they tried to cross the Brooklyn Bridge. Since then all but eight have been released with warnings.
There have been allegations reported in the New York Times and elsewhere of police deliberately enticing protestors on to the roadway in order to have grounds for arrest.
“The cops watched and did nothing, indeed, seemed to guide us onto the roadway,” said Jesse Myerson, a protestor who marched but was not arrested.
Some experts are already considering the possibility that the Occupy Wall Street protests are the beginning of a new social movement.
According to Paul Ortiz, history professor at the University of Florida, the most important thing for these protestors to remember is that fighting for a better future is in their own self-interest.
Ortiz says most successful social movements in the past were heavily influenced by self-interest as it motivates protestors to risk arrest for their beliefs.
For now, Ortiz says, the Occupy Wall St protestors need to operate under the assumption that established institutions will not swoop in to help.
"People will have to build institutions as they move forward," he says.
Ortiz is supported by history professors Michael Kazin and Joel Beinin – all believe the Occupy Wall Street movement’s continued success depends wholly on how well the protestors are able to organise to engage in the political system after this event.
As a movement, the protests started small but are growing. People are camping and protesting in American cities from Boston to Los Angeles, and protests are springing up closer to home, with copycat movements forming in New Zealand.
Occupy Wellington has an event page on social networking site Facebook, with an event scheduled for October 15 having 70 people registered as ‘attending’. The Auckland event, Occupy Queen Street, is scheduled for the same day and has over 700 people registered.
It appears that the Occupy Wall Street organisers have struck a vein of sympathy worldwide, and they have optimism that their movement will continue, organisers say.
"This will be a great step towards reclaiming power for the working class. Those who profit off the suffering of others will be held accountable.
“We are the 99 percent, and we are too big to fail.”
Morgan Watkins is working with UNICEF as part of the 3Youth project, an upcoming section of the 3 News website focusing on social issues and written by young people.