Mapping the 99 Percent, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

The Potential Social Impact of the Occupy Wall Street Movement

Within the span of a few months the Occupy Wall Street Movement, which began as a series of protests centered in the financial district of New York City, has become a world-wide phenomenon. The initial protests, intended to criticize the economic irresponsibility of the American financial elite and their lack of taking blame for the current economic crisis, has quickly become a mass populist movement. The main slogan of the protests, “We are the 99% percent”, provides a brief summary of the mission behind the protests: it is the majority of the world’s population that is affected by the financial and economic decisions of the 1%. In this regard, the Occupy Wall Street protests can be understood as a radical disapproval of a system controlled by the elite. As the protests have not been explicit in its particular demands, it can thus be understood as a social movement that has captured a certain spirit of the times, whereby economic irresponsibility becomes the chief concern of a mass populist movement. Consequently, the social value of the protest is immediately clear in its attempt to make economic issues a concern for the majority of society, since it is the latter that is most negatively affected by the decisions of financial elites. As mentioned above, the movement has made a social impact in its world-wide manifestation and its ongoing criticism of the relationship between capitalism and questions of social justice. According to its broad populist appeal, demonstrated in the world-wide spread of its message, the movement can already be considered a success, as the criticism of capitalism has entered the everyday news and public discourse, and thus possibilities emerge for a re-evaluation of the relationship between economic systems and democratic social structure.

The Occupy phenomenon is largely critical in its approach. The movement has not proceeded forward with a positive program for change, but rather has been grounded in an attempt to make it clear to the public the injustices of the current financial-social structure of America and the globalized world. Inspired by the democratic revolutions of the 2011 Arab Spring and, in particular, the successes of the Egyptian people in removing the authoritarian Mubarak from power, “Adbusters, the Canadian anti-capitalist magazine..in July issued a call to flood lower Manhattan with ninety thousand protesters”…using the slogan “Are you ready for a Tahrir moment?” (Kroll, 13) The protests in Egypt thus functioned as an image of the possibilities of civil involvement from the common people, to the extent that various organizations and activist groups realized the possibility for real political change. Augmented by the new social networking media sties such as Facebook and Twitter, which provide ways for mass organization and thus “have been critical for linking potential supporters and distributing information,” (Caren & Gaby) the group was able to effectively spread its message of capitalist criticism. The social value of the group lies in its all-inclusive slogans that specifically criticize the financial irresponsibilties of this decade that are felt world-wide. The group is important to the extent that it essentially once again re-democratizes politics, as the Occupy movement argues against the fates of the population being merely handed over to the hands of a wealthy economic class, which now becomes the object of democratic criticism, debate and discourse. The continued decline in social security, the outsourcing of jobs, the lack of employment for university graduates, the rising costs of living, the mortgage home crisis, and the corporate bailouts are just some fo the reasons for the actions of the Occupy protests. According to this political engagement, as John Buell writes, the OWS movement’s social value can be found in its “democratic challenge,” as it is essentially the embodiment of radical democratic values in the form of the demand for “transparency and openness of deliberation, a voice for anyone.” (Buell) Furthermore, “not only is such radical democracy a check upon arbitrary power, it is also an occasion for ordinary citizens to develop ac clearer sense of who they are and to explore and clarify new grievances.” (Buell) The social values of the protests indicate a democratic movement that intends to be active in political and social discourse as opposed to merely remaining passive to those who hold power. The clear economic and social troubles that are occurring in America have prompted activists, students, workers, and common people to become involved in the democratic process on a grassroots level. With this decision to oppose the passive response of a system controlled by elites and become involved, the Occupy movement is an embodiment of democracy at its most basic populist level, and thus demonstrates to the greater society the very possibility of democracy in action.

Accordingly, the movement can be said to shape society as it represents a total re-appraisal of the site of political power. Political power is no longer institutionalized in the form of the politician, but the movement attempts to take back democracy. Governments are not the true symbols of democracy, but rather it is the activism of the public that speaks to what democracy really mean. This represents a shift in how politics in America is conceived, as Wendy Brown emphasizes: “For three decades, American populist politics have been largely reactionary, instigated and instrumentialized by monied interests…as splendidly surprising as the OWS movement has been, equally astonishing is the level of national endorsement for it: recent polls indicate that 62% of the counry supports the movement and that more than a third of the super-rich (the 1%) are sympathetic.” The way in which the movement has shaped society thus lies in the fact that it is democratic in its foundations, therefore appealing to a broad sample of people by showing the irrationality of a supposedly democratic system that is controlled by the interests of a small elite. The movement has attempted to make clear to the public consciousness that democracy is not consistent with free-market exploitation(no need to change, this is exactly what the movement is talking about!) by the upper class, but rather with the concerns of the common people. With these principles in mind, the movement can continue to shape society by continually exposing the falsity of the notion that democracy equals capitalism, as capitalism has demonstrated that it can be harmful to democratic ideals by placing the interests of a system controlled by the elite ahead of the concerns of the so-called 99%.

In line with its broad appeal, the likely success of the movement is increased by its inclusive approach to politics. With the slogan of “We are the 99% percent”, the movement invites participation not only on a national, but global level. No ethnic, cultural, religious or economic group is prevented from becoming involved in the series of protests nationally and globally. This inclusive approach is demonstrated in the fact that Occupy protests, modeled on the New York protest, have appeared throughout the country, and furthermore, throughout the world. The common concerns of the planet towards economic exploitation are evoked by these protests. Democratic philosophy, human rights, and freedom of speech are accepted on international levels through organizations such as the United Nations, and the Declaration of Human Rights – namely, democracy is the accepted political discourse of our times. Therefore, the fact that the Occupy movement speaks to the desire to realize these globally recognized democratic values does not make it an exception to the democratic ambitions of the American and world populace, but shows that it is consistent with these very aspirations. In successfully appropriating the basic principles of democracy and by adhering to these principles, the movement can cause profound change in our current system and thus its success is likely.

The Occupy movement has once again shed light on the essence of democracy. Democracy is not grounded in financial institutions such as Wall Street who control the supposedly free circulation(I don’t understand why this should be changed- this is what the movement is talking about) of capital – this is the very loss of democracy, as common people are excluded from decisions about their own political, economic, and social futures. The Occupy protests demonstrate the root of democracy as founded in the demos, (this should not be changed that is the etymology of democracy) namely, in the people. Any true democracy must maintain this people as its focus. The Occupy movement is a radical involvement of the people within a political environment that has, as Brown notes, excluded political participation of the common populace, and therefore is an effort to realize a true democratic system.

Works Cited

Brown, Wendy. Occupy Wall Street: Return of a Repressed Res-Publica. Theory &  Event. Vol. 14, No. 4, 2011, Supplement. Available at: http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/theory_and_event/v014/14.4S.brown.html

Buell, John. Occupy Wall Street’s Democratic Challenge. Theory & Event. Vol. 14, No. 4, 2011, Supplement. Available at http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/theory_and_event/v014/14.4S.buell.html

Caren, Neal and Gaby, Sarah. Occupy Online: Facebook and the Spread of Occupy Wall Street. Social Science Research Network, October 24, 2011. Available at SSRN.http://ssrn.com/SSRN-id1948565.

Kroll, Andy. How Occupy Wall Street Really Got Started. In This Changes Everything: Occupy Wall Street and the 99% Movement. (ed. S. Van Gelder). San Francisco: The Positive Futures Network, 16-21.Addendum

Brown, Wendy. Occupy Wall Street: Return of a Repressed Res-Publica. Theory &  Event. Vol. 14, No. 4, 2011. Supplement. Available at: http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/theory_and_event/v014/14.4S.brown.html

Buell, John. Occupy Wall Street’s Democratic Challenge. Theory & Event. Vol. 14, No. 4, 2011, Supplement. Available at http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/theory_and_event/v014/14.4S.buell.html

Caren, Neal and Gaby, Sarah. Occupy Online: Facebook and the Spread of Occupy Wall Street. Social Science Research Network. Available at SSRN. http://ssrn.com/SSRN-id1948565.

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