Declaration: Occupy Wall Street Says What It Wants

Protest Movement Now Has Moved to Other U.S. Cities

October 3, 2011, 2:13 PM

Oct. 4, 2011 -- Not even Thomas Jefferson--in all his genius--ever thought of this: A declaration issued by New York City protest movement Occupy Wall Street lists its objectives and complaints. Then, at the end, it appends an asterisk.

This connects to a disclaimer, written in italics: "These grievances are not all-inclusive."

In its declaration, the three-week-old protest group comes out four-square against foreclosures, executive bonuses, workplace discrimination, politicians beholden to lobbyists, monopoly agriculture, and the sale of personal privacy data. It decries everything from colonialism to "faulty bookkeeping."

Of several similar protest movements--Occupy Boston, Occupy Los Angeles, and others now gaining steam around the U.S.--New York's is the first to issue so specific a manifesto.

"I think initially the movement started as just an airing of grievances by people frustrated by the economy and by the lack of government responsiveness to inequality," says Columbia University political science professor Dorian Warren. "But now you see those frustrations starting to congeal into a more formal list of goals and demands, a more specific articulation."

He expects to see such a more formal list issued later this week, perhaps by Wednesday.

Warren compares Occupy Wall St., at this stage of its life, to the nascent Tea Party, when protesters were seeking a vehicle through which to express frustration with the Obama administration.

What's different here? "The Tea Party seemed to be a movement of older Americans, more conservative, whiter," he says. OWS protesters "are younger, more diverse." They've got a sense of humor and they play better music. Some protesters Monday dressed as zombies so that financial workers could "see us reflecting the metaphor of their actions," according to OWS spokesman Patrick Bruner.

"I was down there yesterday," says Warren, en route to making his second visit to lower Manhattan to observe the goings-on today, "and what surprised me was how festive the atmosphere was. Nobody would describe a Tea Party meeting as festive."

He added: "There's no question, though, that they're angry and frustrated."

Just how frustrated became apparent Sunday, when hundreds of protesters poured onto the roadway of the Brooklyn Bridge, stopping traffic. Some protesters were detained temporarily by police, whom the protesters have accused of using too-aggressive tactics, including pepper spray.

Warren says another difference from the Tea Party is the media coverage Occupy Wall St. has been getting: Coverage outside New York has been limited. "What the Tea Party had going for them," he says, "is that they got coverage immediately, and by a national network—Fox. That gave them legitimacy."

Further, the Tea Party had an electoral agenda from the get-go. "It's an open question whether this," says Warren, referring to OWS, "will be channeled into mainstream politics."

There are almost as many grievances as there are protesters. "We're tired, we're mad, and we're standing up," protester Hero Vincent today told ABC News. He complains that the movement is "degraded" by the news media for not having a limited and well thought out set of goals. "Our constitution took a year to make," he says. " We've been here for three weeks, and we're supposed to have an agenda? That makes no sense."

Professor Yochai Benkler, co-director of Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, calls Occupy Wall Street still very much a movement in the making. "One of the beautiful things about it," he says, "is that it is a movement defining itself as it 'becomes.'"

If there is a single, clear theme, it's this: Occupy Wall Street says it represents the interests of 99 percent of the American people, against the 1 percent it says controls 50 percent of the wealth.

Gunner Scott, a spokesman for sister movement Occupy Boston, says of his group, "We are in solidarity. We are fed up with how our country is being run. We want fundamental and lasting change. We are the 99 percent not being represented by government, and our needs are not being met. We want to engage other citizens on how we might reform business and government." He looks forward to a nation where "every person has an equal voice and equal access."

Scott says news organizations have been wrong to describe the movement as being made up of hippies and peace activists. "That's not representative of all of us involved. We have students and young people, and the unemployed. But we also have families and the self-employed, who can make their own hours. It's broader than anarchists and hippies."

Warren and Benkler view as significant the role played by social media in the movement's formation and evolution.

It's not that social networking technology has made it possible, they stress. Rather, it's that OWS' members bring to its structure and governance behaviors learned on the web. OWS adherents, says Benkler, are people "comfortable with decentralized collaboration" and with organizations more flat than hierarchical. They naturally seek consensus.

Says Warren: "Think Facebook or twitter: These protesters have adopted that same decentralized structure. There's no one leader. It's not top-down. It's much more democratic, much more 'open-source.'"

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