‘Occupy’ protests go worldwide on day of rebellion

Occupy Wall St has become an international movement. Protestors took to the streets in cities all over the world this weekend to demand the end of corporate privilege and social injustice.

One month after the first protestors invaded Wall St, their 'Occupy' movement has gone global. This weekend, peaceful demonstrations were going on in cities from London to Johannesburg, and from Ottawa to Tokyo. Thousands of people took to the streets in Madrid. In Rome, meanwhile, a protest march exploded into violence as rioters attacked police with makeshift weapons and a homemade explosive.

By and large, however, protestors were not extremists. At protest camps around the world, trade unionists could be seen mingling with pensioners and environmentalists. Students marched with suited workers as well as radical anarchists. All the signs indicate that Occupy is breaking its way into the global political mainstream.

The impetus that has mobilised such a diverse crowd is a feeling of shared injustice. Economies everywhere are frozen, or in decline. Those who suffer most are those on medium and low incomes. With wages shrinking, bills growing and unemployment either a genuine threat or a painful reality, these people – the so-called 99% – have to watch the richest 1% of citizens leading lives that seem to be immune to the ravages of global recession.

That is a cause of real and powerful anger. Some is directed against imagined villains: the bankers; hedge funds; politicians; anyone who is seen to be profiting off the general misery.

More important, however, is the anger that is increasingly directed against the system itself. A middle-aged American woman told a reporter she felt 'run over by capitalism and greed.' A speaker rallied a crowd: 'There are those who say the system is broke. It's not. That's how it was built. It is there to make rich people richer.'

In Bosnia, demonstrators went even further. A crowd wearing Che Guevara T-shirts marched through the streets of Sarajevo shouting 'death to capitalism' – a particularly striking protest in a country that, just over two decades ago, was still under communist rule.

Fair play

The underlying logic of the Western social model is being questioned in a way that it hasn't been in years. The idea has always been that society functions like a game, where everyone obeys the same rules. Play well and you win. Play badly and you lose. It's fair because everyone starts with the same chance of succeeding.

But that's not how things really work, say protestors. As soon as anyone starts winning the game, they start changing the rules – making sure that no one else can climb up the social ladder behind them. We might all be playing the same game – but the dice are loaded.

You Decide

  1. Is capitalism fair or unfair?
  2. Is protesting a useful way to achieve political change?

Activities

  1. Design your own protest sign – either in support of or against the Occupy movement.
  2. Would you change society's rules if you could? How? Draw up your list.

Some People Say...

“For all its faults, capitalism is still the only game in town.”

What do you think?

Q & A

How could people at the top 'change the rules'?
The worry is that people or corporations with the money can buy privileged access to politicians (by donating to their campaign funds) and get laws changed in their favour.
Anything else?
There's something called 'regulatory capture'. Big companies can promise the officials who regulate and restrict their activities profitable jobs after they leave office. Officials are then motivated to give industry an easy ride.
Is communism the only viable alternative to capitalism?
No. Most proposals (and there are many) involve a radical change in the way the financial system runs and big restrictions on corporate activities – especially in things like lobbying and political donations.

Word Watch

Wall St
The traditional centre of the financial industry in the USA. The UK equivalent is the City of London.
Occupy
Inspired by the protest camp that grew up in Egypt's Tahrir Square, demonstrators in New York have tried to set up permanent bases near Wall St. An attempt over the weekend to evict protestors from one park failed.
Wages shrinking
Many workers have had their wages frozen since the financial crisis started in 2007. However, prices have kept rising (a process called inflation) which means that the same wage now buys significantly less.
Che Guevara
A controversial Argentinian who helped stir up the Cuban communist uprising in the 1950s. He has become a symbol of revolution.

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