The New York protesters are using social media to send their message in real time—but will they impact the business world?
by John H. Ostdick
The New York street protests against Wall Street’s financial practices that began last month and are spreading across the world seem to be organic, genuine expressions of anger and frustration. Although the numbers in the streets are not overwhelming yet, the demonstrators are effectively propagating their message via social media. This is both confounding mainstream analysis and prompting experts to debate whether this “for the people, by the people” social medium could be the tool used to usher a new era of anti-establishment sentiment.
“As the Occupy Wall Street protests spread from Lower Manhattan to Washington and other cities, the chattering classes keep complaining that the marchers lack a clear message and specific policy prescriptions,” The New York Times wrote in an October 8 editorial. “The message—and the solutions—should be obvious to anyone who has been paying attention since the economy went into a recession that continues to sock the middle class while the rich have recovered and prospered. The problem is that no one in Washington has been listening.”
OccupyWallSt.org, an unofficial online resource with up-to-the-minute photos, video, chat and speech transcripts from the protests, says that “Occupy Wall Street is a horizontally organized resistance movement employing the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to achieve our ends and encourage the use of nonviolence… to restore democracy in America.”
The movement’s nonviolent means are borrowed from tactics used for governmental upheavals in the Middle East, and also depend heavily on social media connections. “What’s going on in America right now may be the world’s first genuine social-media uprising,” The Economist says in an October 11 post. That uprising is adding to its ranks: Union activists have swelled the protest’s numbers in the past week, and the likes of Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins and Kanye West have made guest appearances.
When the protesters say they represent 99 percent of Americans, they are referring to the concentration of American income. Before the recession, according to The Times, the share of the nation’s wealth held by those in the top 1 percent of households was 23.5 percent, the highest since 1928 and more than double the 10 percent level of the late 1970s.
The people chanting “We are the 99 Percent” in the streets generally trend younger than those turning up in such online places as a Tumblr blog of the same name where people are posting stories of their own economic hardship. The site explains the current situation this way: “We are the 99 percent. We are getting kicked out of our homes. We are forced to choose between groceries and rent. We are denied quality medical care. We are suffering from environmental pollution. We are working long hours for little pay and no rights, if we’re working at all. We are getting nothing while the other 1 percent is getting everything. We are the 99 percent.”
People are encouraged to post pictures of themselves holding a page telling their individual stories. The postings cut across age, race, and gender lines. They articulate the stories of people who are desperately seeking jobs, more affordable health care and education, and/or relief from suffocating debt.
Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young, who marched with civil rights leader Martin Luther King, observed over the weekend that “there’s a difference between an emotional outcry and a movement.”
“This is an emotional outcry,” Young told the Associated Press. “The difference is organization and articulation.”
The Occupy Wall Street movement is still in its infancy. Whether it will influence politics, like the anger that steered the Tea Party protests before it, is unclear.
Today, the occupiers are organizing a trek to J.P. Morgan as well as a day of solidarity over the weekend, where they are calling for countries around the world to join them in peaceful marching against the inaction they see around America’s economic problems.
What do you think about all this? Do you think it will affect American business at all? And if so, how? We would love to start a conversation with you, so comment below or join our Facebook community and chat with us there.