Protesters have occupied Zuccotti Park in New York City since September 17th. This protest, Occupy Wall Street, has since spread across the United States: from Boston, Los Angeles and Chicago to our own Washington, DC. It started in 2010, when Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission struck down campaign finance laws. It has since allowed corporations to make unlimited monetary donations to political campaign. The protestors are calling for a fundamental change in the role of money and corporate influence in the government and a change in the priorities of government from supporting corporate interests to supporting working people.
The Occupy Together movement, as the wave of protests has become known, operates without a formal hierarchy, unifying under the motto “we are the 99%”. It’s a direct reference to the distribution of wealth in the United States, in which 1% of American society controls approximately 35% of all the private wealth in America. Decisions are made by consensus on a local level in the individual occupations.
Public opinion has been largely favorable to the protestors, with 33% approving, 27% disapproving and 40% holding no view either way. Even more (79%) say they support the statement “The big banks got bailed out but the middle class got left behind.” Many groups have endorsed the protests, including the major labor unions, and many others, including President Obama, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi have expressed their support for the protests.
Occupy Wall Street came to DC on October 1st with the occupation of McPherson square downtown at 15th and K streets NW. Since then it has continued, with ‘general assemblies’ twice a day and daily marches to protest various corporate lobbies and events, One of their main targets was the Washington Ideas forum attended by Vice President Biden, former Vice President Cheney, Treasury Secretary Geitner, as well as the CEOs of Bank of America and Exxon, among others.
Also happening this past week in DC: ‘Stop the Machine’, a protest organized since last June has been in Freedom Plaza since October 6th. Primarily organized to protest the 10th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan, it has since picked up a lot of the rhetoric behind the Occupy Together Movement, such as the “we are the 99%” motto. This has led to a fair amount of confusion between the Stop the Machine protest and Occupy DC.
American University students have been active within both protests, and a large delegation of AU students, organized by the Community Action and Social Justice Coalition (CASJ) joined Occupy DC in the last few days. Junior Jimmy Fagan (CAS/SPA) expressed his reasoning behind participating in the protest.
“We have hope for change, real change, not some empty promise from some politician,” Fagan said.
Junior Chris Litchfield (SPA/CAS), President of AU Democrats and a member of the CASJ organizing collective, has been supportive of the protests and hopes more students get involved.
“This (protest) matters. Grassroots democratic movements have shaped American public policy in the past ten years,” Litchfield said. “As students, we are invested in the future, and to see folks standing up against our current irresponsible economic practices is refreshing.”
Photos by Ethan Miller