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Is the "occupy" protest movement justified?

Background and context

Occupy Wall Street (OWS) is an ongoing series of demonstrations in New York City based in Zuccotti Park in the Wall Street financial district.
The protests were initiated by the Canadian activist group Adbusters. They are mainly protesting social and economic inequality, corporate greed, corporate power and influence over government (particularly from the financial services sector), and of lobbyists. The participants' slogan "We are the 99%" refers to income inequality in the United States between the top 1%, who control about 40% of the wealth, and the rest of the population. The original protest began on September 17, 2011, and by October 9, similar demonstrations were either ongoing or had been held in 70 major cities and over 600 communities in the U.S. Internationally, other "Occupy" protests have modeled themselves after Occupy Wall Street, in over 900 cities worldwide. The general question in this article is whether the Occupy protests have a good and clear message, if they are productive, and whether individuals like yourself or policy-makers should support, encourage, and listen to them.

Messaging: Do the protests have a clear and common message?


  • Occupy protesters have common message to right capitalism "Cross continents." The Economist. Oct 17th 2011: "they do share a common demand: someone, somewhere, should do something to right the problems of global capitalism as currently constituted. One reason why these protests are so interesting is that their targets, those cheerleaders for globalisation, capitalism and free markets, tend to agree that the system needs fixing. This makes the 'occupy' protests, as they have come to be known in the English-speaking world, hard to argue against."
  • Protests are forcing recognition of income inequality. One of the primary concerns of the protesters is the growth of income inequality since the 1970s. Many politicians such as Eric Cantor, who hasn't focused much on the issue in the past, felt compelled to recognize the problem in a statement in October. This just emphasizes the point that the protesters are driving messaging and considerations within Congress, which is ultimately what will set the agenda and possible induce action."
  • Occupiers are aligning their objectives with organized labor. "The goals of Occupy Wall Street." SFBG. October 15, 2011: "The occupiers may have started off with only vague objectives, but some tangible, progressive goals are starting to emerge -- and they don't in any way require the bankers to care. The Wall Street protests are growing -- and some of the people getting involved have a very clear agenda. The most dramatic evidence is the growing role of organized labor in the actions. The nurses marched Oct. 5 -- and they have a very specific platform, well thought-out, that calls for a financial transactions tax. AFSCMA, CWA and the city's transit workers joined the march, too. And the head of the AFL-CIO, Richard Trumka, is now on board. And while Trumka made it clear that labor isn't going to try to dominate the spontaneous protests."
  • Many groups with Occupy protests have very specific demands. The October2011 Movement “demands that the government represent the people, not just the top 1 percent. stands with super majorities of Americans on seven key issues: Tax the rich and corporations. End the wars, bring the troops home, cut military spending. Protect the social safety net, strengthen Social Security, improve Medicare for all. End corporate welfare for oil companies and other big business interests. Transition to a clean energy economy, reverse environmental degradation. Protect worker rights including collective bargaining, create jobs, raise wages. Get money out of politics.”[1]
  • It's OK for Occupiers to have a diversity of objectives. Who says that the protests must have a single unified message, or a more focused message, or a agreed upon list of demands. That's not how protest movements like this work. Protesters have a wide variety of grievances and requests, all of which are totally legitimate to voice. To impose an artificial set of demands would be to diminish the grassroots appeal of the movement.
  • Occupy protesters come from all walks of life. Maxwell Hellman. "In Defense of Occupy Wall Street." The Wesleyan Argus. October 23rd, 2011: "If you head down to the protests, you’ll notice that young, middle-class people make up only a small percentage of the protesters. There are anarchists, hippies, libertarians, conservatives, democrats, the elderly, college students, children, the unemployed, the working class, businessmen, lawyers, doctors, the disabled, the homeless, people of color, and queer folk. The people at Occupy Wall Street come from every walk of life. They are protesting because they are fed up with their voices being marginalized by the one percent of the population that has the vast majority of the money and power in this nation and would like to keep it that way."
  • Occupy protesters understand Public Relations techniques. Ronn Torossian. "Why the Occupy Wall Street Protesters Will Occupy A Lot of Media Attention? They understand PR." Op-Eds. October 12, 2011: "The simple truth is that as these protests begin their 3rd week, one can expect that this group will attract increasing media attention in the days and weeks to come. This group understands Public Relations and is capturing attention by understanding a series of key elements necessary to capture public attention. Authenticity: As I outline in my new PR book: "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations" authenticity is key. We are living in a time where America -- across the board regardless of political stance is Anti-establishment and few view big business as real and trustworthy. From failed bank loans to Bernie Madoff, the media has made noise surrounding "bad" unauthentic people, and these street protestors, seemingly idealistic can be seen as authentic and the real deal. Media naturally can't ignore these demonstrations in the heart of Wall Street. Conflict: The protestors thus far have engaged confrontation with the police department, which invites drama -- and encourages a situation which the media has to cover. They are waiting for the confrontation and won't miss police officers swinging clubs, or mass arrest. Regardless of numbers, conflict makes for great media. Timing & Theatre: Following a summer where the media has been focused on street protests in the Middle East and elsewhere, these protestors are using catchy slogans and understand street theatre. The timing is right -- Cairo, Libya and Greece all had it -- how can the media now not report in the "people" speaking out on Wall Street?"


  • Occupy protests lack common/coherent message "Occupy protests need to focus on coherent demands." Student Life Staff Editorial. October 17th, 2011: "The protests have been linked and compared to the tea party movement, due to their similar grassroots nature and extreme ideological stances. However, the tea party does have a centralized message, which the “Occupy” protests lack. The tea party is about reducing taxes and cutting spending to make government smaller. Regardless of whether or not you agree with the tea party’s stances, it is possible to know what the entire group and all of its smaller subsidiaries are about. We believe the “Occupy” protests need to do the same thing. Define and convey their message correctly, and stick to reasonable demands that resonate with the rest of the American public. Most of the country has been seriously hurt by the financial crisis, and most of the American public wants to focus on creating a more equal and fair country. There is a lot of room for the “Occupy” protests to grow, but without a consistent message, most Americans will be turned off."
  • Occupiers should protest White House not Wall Street. The Cato Institute’s Tom Palmer: "What caused the crisis, the indebtedness, the unemployment, the stagnation? The culprits are state agencies and enterprises, including our Federal Reserve (our government’s bank), Federal Housing Administration (FHA), Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae), and Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac), which jointly flooded the country with cheap credit and encouraged and subsidized unsound banking and subprime mortgages, all to encourage wider home ownership, paper prosperity, and cozy relationships with their cronies. We got a housing bubble, mountains of unpayable debt, and a financial crisis. Thanks, Uncle Sam. The Occupiers have the wrong address. The subprime crisis was designed in Washington, not New York."[2]
  • Occupiers should be protesting timid financial reforms. "The Rantings of Vern Rigg Kain." Blog. October 7th, 2011: "if these protestors were actually protesting something, they’d be protesting against the banker-butt-kissing, absolutely pathetic Financial Reform that they all explicitly or implicitly voted for. This, if these bums even had a clue, was what their beloved Democrat administration, full of Wall Street 'fat cats,' passed as a supposed fix to the current regulatory system for prevention of the next financial disaster. No matter what the headlines read, however, this so-called 'reform' did nothing but allow all the banks to keep their bonuses, hoard their cash, and lay off more employees."
  • Occupy protests ineffective; Wall Street bankers don't care. "5 Reasons Why 'Occupy Wall Street' Won't Work." The Atlantic. October 3rd, 2011: "Wall Street Doesn't Care. There's a key difference between the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Tea Party movement. The Tea Partiers' anger is directed squarely at the U.S. government. It began due to dismay at the bailouts and the massive Obama stimulus package. The Tea Party wanted less government interference in the economy. But the Occupy Wall Street movement's anger is directed at bankers. Here's the problem: they really don't care. These protesters are not Wall Street's customers. In many cases they aren't even their customers' customers. Over the weekend, I saw a YouTube video of some Wall Streeters sipping champagne as they watched the protests from a balcony above. This is an extreme example, but such bankers who fit the stereotype that the protesters hate obviously aren't moved by the demonstration. In reality, the vast, vast majority of bankers, traders, and investors aren't out to rob the poor to feed caviar to the rich. They are doing honest work that holds together the global financial industry. That large majority of Wall Streeters will walk by the protesters and shake their heads at the crowds' misunderstanding of what they do."
  • Occupy protests can't sway Congress due to lack of message. "5 Reasons Why 'Occupy Wall Street' Won't Work." The Atlantic. October 3rd, 2011: "The Protesters Can't Sway Congress. The Tea Party accomplished something very key: it helped to significantly alter the makeup of Congress through the 2010 election. It had a goal -- to put out of power the big government candidates -- and it accomplished that goal. The Occupy Wall Street cannot hope for any result as significant. As mentioned, it doesn't have a clear set of objectives. But let's say, for argument's sake, that it has some general fringe-left goals. Some that have been suggested include new taxes on Wall Street and much stronger financial regulation. The problem is that these views aren't likely to catch on in Congress: even when the mix was much further to the left in 2009 through 2010, a relatively mild financial regulation bill was passed and even the Bush tax cuts remained intact. The reality is that the U.S. is a center-right nation, and Congress reflects that. While some cities are farther to the left than others, they already have very progressive representatives. Meanwhile, the message of Occupy Wall Street isn't likely to catch on and affect any change in more center-right regions like the Tea Party did."
  • Occupy protesters are mostly hooligans and anarchists. "The Rantings of Vern Rigg Kain." Blog. October 7th, 2011: "They’re BUMS (pardon the pun) and they do not represent everyday people (at least, I hope they don’t). In addition to the picture above showing a left-wing protestor defecating on a police car, check out this video from CBS Sacramento for proof. This so-called protest isn’t a 'revolution', a 'movement', or even a rally no matter how much a tingle it puts down Michael Moore or Chris Matthews’ leg. It’s a bunch of bums with no results, purpose, or method in their sights that I spend as much energy laughing at as they spend walking the streets. Today they’re angry, tomorrow they’ll go back to their lattes and Xbox’s, and nothing will have changed."
  • Occupiers must enter political process and vote to succeed.

Economics: Do the protesters have a good economic message?


  • Occupy protests oppose corporations fighting protective regulations. Diana Marmorstein. "Response to Rachel Marsden's op-ed on Occupy Wall Street claiming protesters are welfare junkies." Op Ed News. October 19th, 2011: "What's wrong with letting owners and executives amass billions? With money, comes power -- the power to influence legislation to further increase one's wealth and power at the expense of society and the environment. One great example of all that can befall a society that allows this concentration of wealth is Koch Industries. Owners Charles and David Koch have spread their tentacles over our entire planet, fighting against regulations that protect us from cancer-causing, toxic industrial chemicals and funding "think tanks" whose goal is to confuse people about global climate change. They have also hosted strategy retreats on fighting regulations and duping the public about climate change for office holders, including Governors and Congressmen and even Supreme Court Justices. Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, after attending a Koch retreat, did the bidding of the Koch brothers by ruling in favor of the corporate-money-equals-free-speech "Citizens United' case. Lately, they have lobbied for and misinformed the public on the proposed Keystone tar sands pipeline that would bring Canada's environmentally-destructive tar sands oil to the Gulf Coast for export to Europe and Latin America."
  • Fair for rich to pay more into system that helped them get rich Robert Kuttner. "Cantor's view of success is wrong." Politico. October 27th, 2011: "Cantor fails to acknowledge the many social mechanisms that help people up that ladder — everything from public schools and universities to publicly supported research and development and regulations that keep markets tolerably honest. As Elizabeth Warren recently put it, 'There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own.' For example, the biotech sector, one of America’s few export winners, exists because of extensive public investments via the National Institutes of Health and government grants and contracts to our great research universities. In the same way, U.S. leadership in aerospace was partly created by and depended heavily on contracts from NASA and the Pentagon. The geniuses who devised a new generation of advanced computer technology benefited from the innovations funded by the National Science Foundation and the Pentagon that linked computers at major universities — which, in turn, produced the Internet."
  • Occupiers are requesting some specific regs/taxes on Wall Street. "The goals of Occupy Wall Street." SFBG. October 15, 2011: "[A] labor leader [at one Occupy protest] was specific as he summarized his demands: make Wall Street invest in creating jobs for Americans, stop foreclosures and write down problem mortgages. Paying for government programs would come from a 'very tiny' tax on speculation, he said."
  • Occupiers protesting unemployment, student loans, healthcare costs. "These Occupy Wall Street Protesters Have A Message." NPR. October 14th, 2011: "Protesters have common gripe with A dearth of jobs, overwhelming student loans and soaring health-care costs are just three major issues protesters have targeted. And regardless of politics, economic data suggests they're not alone in their frustrations. It may be why the protests have spread to other cities — including Boston, Cincinnati, Seattle and Washington, D.C. — after taking root in downtown New York nearly a month ago. Take for example the unemployment rate, which has been stuck near 9 percent since the recession officially ended more than two years ago. When counting those who settle for part-time work or have quit looking, that rate rises to about 16.5 percent. A crippled labor market also shifts bargaining power to employers, giving workers less leverage to seek raises. That could help explain why pay was nearly 2 percent less in August than it was a year earlier when adjusted for inflation. Student loans are another common rallying point for protesters — as expressed in one sign that read "Want demands? How about student loan bailouts?' The struggle to keep up with payments is clear; about 320,000 borrowers who entered repayment in 2009 defaulted on their student loans by the end of 2010, according to the Institute for College Access & Success. That's up about 33 percent from the previous year. Meanwhile, the cost of annual health insurance premiums for family coverage rose 9 percent this year and surpassed $15,000 for the first time, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Educational Trust. Some don't have to worry about the uptick; an estimated 16 percent of the population does not have health insurance. It's that economic backdrop that has driven a diversity of protesters to the streets."


  • Occupiers wrong to oppose bail out of financial system. "5 Reasons Why 'Occupy Wall Street' Won't Work." The Atlantic. October 3rd, 2011: "Even if the U.S. were to embrace the message of these protests, Congress would not act. The bailouts were hugely unpopular with voters, but they occurred anyway. That's because there are times when Washington just needs to be practical. When unemployment is stuck above 9% is such a time."
  • Taxpayers actually made money on financial bailouts. Taxpayers had made all of the TARP money back by October of 2011, actually making $10 to 20 billion dollars back in profits. It is, therefore, wrong to conclude that the Bankers have simply taken the bailouts and run.[3]
  • Occupiers' ideas are often counterproductive for economy. "5 Reasons Why 'Occupy Wall Street' Won't Work." The Atlantic. October 3rd, 2011: "Enacting new financial transaction taxes or even more burdensome regulation will not be good for the economy in the short-run. Even many Democrats are worried that such aggressive actions threaten the recovery. That's the main reason why the Bush tax cuts were extended. As the banking industry remains fragile, the government isn't likely to wallop it with new fees, taxes, or regulation just because a few thousand protesters in Lower Manhattan are making some noise. The last thing we need is another financial crisis."
  • Banking and bankers are essential to US economy. "5 Reasons Why 'Occupy Wall Street' Won't Work." The Atlantic. October 3rd, 2011: "Banking is a Vital Institution -- Especially to the U.S. Hating banks is counterproductive. You simply can't live without banks in a modern, sophisticated economy. Wall Street investment firms are equally essential. Capital markets and debt markets allow businesses to function smoothly. Without them, growth and progress would be much slower. But the U.S., in particular, needs to maintain its healthy, vibrant banking system. During the financial regulation battle least year, a lawyer I know who works with banks and investors lamented the effort. He worried that Congress would go to far. Banking is one of the few industries the U.S. has left where we're a global leader, he said. He is absolutely right. Finance is one of the few sectors where Americans can still find good-paying jobs at all levels."
  • Occupiers wrongly seek to redistribute by dragging rich down. Eric Cantor said in October of 2011: "The goal shouldn’t be for everyone to meet in the middle of the ladder. We should want all people to be moving up and no one to be pulled down. How do we do that? It cannot simply be about wealth redistribution. You don’t just take from the guy at the top to give to the guy at the bottom and expect our problems to be solved."[4]
  • Occupiers lump socially productive investors in with others. Stephen Lacey. "Occupy Wall Street Movement Energizes Climate Protesters, But Also Highlights Contradictions." Think Progress. October 21st, 2011: "Simply labeling all major investors part of a culture of “corporate greed” neglects all of the folks who are actually deploying capital to solve major environmental problems. For example, this week a group of 258 top investors representing $20 trillion in assets signed a letter calling for immediate and aggressive carbon-reduction targets, explaining that good environmental policies 'yield substantial economic benefits including creating new jobs and businesses, stimulating technological innovation, and providing a robust foundation for economic recovery and sustainable long-term economic growth.'"
  • "Taxing rich" likely to harm middle class job-creators. "The Rantings of Vern Rigg Kain." Think Progress. October 7th, 2011: "Why The Protests Are Stupid: 1) These are supposedly the bottom 99% protesting the hoarding of the top 1%. I get it, and it pisses me off, too. However what they’re demanding in order to correct it will ultimately harm the middle class for the simple reason that under Washington’s rules, many in the middle class are still classified as “rich” when they are hardly rich at all. Changes as this OWS group are supposedly demanding will hurt the business owners who are the ones who would otherwise (albeit reluctantly) give these bum protestors jobs."
  • New regs/taxes on finance firms would cause them to leave US. "5 Reasons Why 'Occupy Wall Street' Won't Work." The Atlantic. October 3rd, 2011: "It's also responsible for a very significant portion of U.S. GDP. If Congress were to create burdensome new rules or taxes for the industry here, then the business would just move somewhere else. It could easily do so: there's nothing about finance that requires it to have a major presence in the U.S. Congress knows better than to risk the U.S. losing its competitive edge in such an important sector."

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