Wall St protest grows amid anger at ‘greedy’ bankers

Protests against the financial sector are spreading across the USA, reflecting a surge of popular discontent at ongoing economic hardship, widening inequality and the lack of serious reform.

As Autumn descends on New York, a motley crew of teachers, students, pensioners, nurses, the unemployed – and everyone else besides – gather in Zucotti Park. The drizzle might dampen the protestors' brightly coloured signs, but not their spirit. Chants of 'the people, united, will never be defeated' rise above the sounds of horns and drums, and the excited chatter is of a new movement for justice and equality.

This is Occupy Wall Street, a shifting protest group of up to 5,000 people who have been camping out in central New York since mid-September. Their movement is born from indignation at the sharp inequalities of wealth in the USA. They say they represent the 99%: the struggling majority of Americans who are forced to scrimp and save while a tiny elite enjoy unimaginable wealth.

Last week, the mass arrest of more than 700 of these protestors brought Occupy Wall Street into the spotlight – and now similar protests are springing up in cities all over the US. The rebellion has been called an American Autumn to match the Middle East's Arab Spring, and the protestors have promised to stay put until their demands are met.

But what are these demands? Central to the movement's grievances is inequality: 1% of America's population controls more wealth than the whole bottom 90%. Protestors are angry at huge executive bonuses and taxpayer bailouts. They want to stop to corporations influencing politics through large political donations, and to create good jobs for the 18.3% of Americans who are underemployed.

Where the Arab Spring demanded democracy and civil rights in dictatorial regimes, its American cousin claims to oppose a capitalism in which the desire for profit tramples over the needs of people, justice and equality.

But for many Americans, it is precisely this capitalism which holds the key to getting out of recession, and creating jobs and wealth for all. And many economists believe that attacking business with harsh regulation – as some protestors are recommending – will stifle growth, and make America's problems even worse.

Growth or equality

A little less growth might be an acceptable price to pay, say demonstrators, so long as what wealth exists already can just be better shared. A poorer but more equal society would be better than one in which the majority suffer while a tiny minority thrive.

But public opinion remains undecided. Inequality is a feature of capitalism which is broadly accepted in American society. The idea is that anyone can get rich if they have the talent and work hard, and that generally people deserve and have earned their wealth. That means not being too hard on those who are on top now, because one day you might just get there yourself.

You Decide

  1. Do you agree with the Occupy Wall St protestors?
  2. What is more important – social justice or freedom of opportunity? How do those opposing principles play out in this case?

Activities

  1. Design a poster either supporting or opposing the protest on Wall Street.
  2. Write a manifesto for your own protest movement. Think about a problem that bothers you – and the solutions you might propose.

Some People Say...

“The protestors just want to make everyone as poor as they are.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Do the Wall Street protestors have a leader?
No. A body has been set up to represent the occupation – the NYC General Assembly. Many of the protestors, though, are likely to be anarchists, so will believe in a non-hierarchical system, where everyone's voice should be heard equally.
Does this mean they don't have consistent demands?
There's bound to be plenty of dispute between the protestors. Some may want full-blown revolution, others just an end to 'excessive' bonuses.
But what's the opposition to something as simple as that?
There are many reasons, but many think hefty pay packets create strong incentive for banks to create growth, and jobs.

Word Watch

Arab Spring
The wave of protests that spread across the Middle East, starting in Tunisia, earlier this year. The revolutions, which still continue across the Arab world, demanded democracy in countries where dictators ruled.
Taxpayer bailouts
A bailout is an emergency loan to a corporation, to prevent it from bankruptcy. During the 2008 financial crisis, governments – funded by taxpayers – had to provide these bailouts to failing banks, at a cost of billions.
Political donations
In the USA, and to a lesser extent in other Western democracies, politicians have to spend huge quantities of money on election campaigning. This means they are constantly seeking donations to cover costs. Corporations give politicians millions of dollars each year, hoping to gain political influence.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.