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» Occupy Wall Street Explained

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Capitalism, as practiced in the United States, guarantees an unequal distribution of wealth.  Those who work hard and take calculated risks have the possibility to amass far more wealth than the average person.  Conversely, those who are not favored by circumstance or force of will have the possibility to earn far less than average.  Some has come to the conclusion that, while this imbalance is part and parcel of our economic system, the disparity between the top earners and the average household has become extreme.  According to one report from Wikipedia (and supported by data from the United States Congressional Budget Office), the top 1% of earners in the United States currently controls 40% of the wealth in the country.

Occupy Wall Street 99 Percent

Occupy Wall Street 99 Percent

The Occupy Wall Street movement started as a protest against this wealth disparity, and against the immense influence that corporations and corporate greed have on the US government.  Several factors have given rise to this movement:

  • The financial crises of the 2000’s, driven by high risk financial professionals and resulting in major losses by the middle class.  The value of the family home was damaged, perhaps irrevocably; jobs were lost; taxpayer funds were used to bailout corporations and banks that were “too big to fail”.
  • Uprisings around the world, commonly called the “Arab Spring”, have shown that populist movements similar to this have the power to create radical change.
  • People who once believed that President Obama would institute sweeping reforms to correct these issues have grown disillusioned and now lack faith that the government will voluntarily enact the necessary reforms.

While the majority of the protesters occupying Zuccotti Park are young and Democrat-affiliated, as the protest continues, it attracts a widening population.  Many local union organizations have pledged their support, and the movement has started to gather celebrity endorsements as well.

Most Americans view these protest favorably and agree in principle with the goals of the protesters.  However, one major problem is that there is no clear statement of what those goals really are.  The Canadian group AdBusters made the original call to action with a statement that balance was the only demand, but how exactly should that be achieved?  No one seems to know.

Making the movement even more difficult to understand is the nature of the protest’s growth.  Historically, these kinds of movements need a clear leader and a clear agenda in order to garner this much support.  This movement has grown primarily through social networking media, and the only leadership is the NYC General Assembly, an informal forum that meets nightly in the park with open-mike speaking by any who care to air their opinions.  With no leader or spokesman to follow, it is difficult for Wall Street or for the government to address the crowds in a meaningful fashion.

Meanwhile, the protest continues and continues to grow.  Expenses are piling up as New York City police officers and sanitation crews are working overtime to maintain safe conditions.  A report from CNN cautioned people to not view this as a passing phase, but rather as a major pronouncement that the way we’ve done business for so long must now change.

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