Part motivational chant, part war-cry; “we are the ninety nine percent” was echoed in over 95 cities in 82 countries across the world for the past three months. Equipped with sleeping bags, tents, and signs, people young and old began to gather in the financial districts of cities to protest.
Yet, not all were quite sure what they were protesting, indeed, many – including some of the protestors themselves – were unsure of their message. To understand the scope of this global protest, we have to understand its origins. The spark that began this storm was born out of a blog post on a Canadian website, called AdBusters.
AdBusters’ goal is to “topple major power structures and forge a major shift in the way [they] live in the 21st century” and on July 13th 2011, they published a blog post that asked readers to set up “tents, kitchens and peaceful barricades” to occupy wall street, New York, on September 17th. The post ignited what has been a general discontent amongst many citizens, unhappy about the condition of the financial sector and the lack of action against the financial collapse by their governments.
By September, the post had reached readers across the world. A quick scan of the comment section below gives you a fair idea of the intense and immediate reaction. For instance, two posts down the list a person had begun to plan chants and slogans for protestors. The fourth poster began to draft up logistics such as “stay in large groups, stay hydrated, [and] do not get cornered by police”. The seventh poster advised that they begin an online protest as well, to hack and take down the trader’s networks. Keep in mind, these comments were written less than 4 hours after the original post was written.
Although AdBusters wanted the protests to center on the idea that Democracy had become a “corporatocracy” due to the excessive financial influence in Washington, they morphed into a confusing collage of ideas and issues from every kind of overlooked, discontent group in the world.
Some wanted to use the event to advocate for more women in powerful financial organizations, some wanted to protest the Republican party’s existence and some wanted to legalize marijuana.. This lack of focus has been criticized by both media and members of the movement, who believe that without a clear goal, the protests will be extinguished.
A month after the initial post, the famous and most well known chant was written on the popular blog site Tumblr; “we are the 99 percent” became the unifying cry of protestors across the web. It stood to define the frustration of the 99 percent of the population who holds less than fifty percent of the wealth in America. It grew to define the entire movement.
Finally, on September 17th, protesters gathered in New York City. Around 1,000 people marched through the streets and nearly 200 protesters stayed the night in cardboard boxes.
Protests sprang up worldwide; movements occurred in over 20 Canadian cities with a focus on cities with strong financial backgrounds such as Toronto and Halifax. Five weeks after protestors took up in Zucotti Park, protests blossomed in over 90 other cities. Although the protests were initially peaceful, they took a turn for the worse six weeks in.
Riots erupted in many countries and clashes between protesters and police became brutal. Stories of overzealous police and thuggish protesters arose in the news leading governments to consider evicting protesters from parks and financial districts.
The Canadian government is currently in the process of deciding whether or not eviction is allowed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which allows citizens peaceful protest without prosecution.
However, the cause of death for these protests will probably not be the government, police or rioters. If the protests end, it will most likely be on the protesters behalf. From the start, the protests began to lose focus. Before tents were even pitched in parks across the country, the ideas behind the protests were quickly becoming foggy and disorganised. The lack of cohesion between protesters stands to destroy them from within, and unless a clear goal can be defined, the end of the movement cannot be far away.
As students, we will be moving into a world shaped by the events that unfold from these protests. They have begun a conversation about the role of billionaires in government. A conversation which will hopefully turn the tide against lenient financial policies. A conversation. That we all should become a part of.