(Article) Occupy Movement: Danger Bell is Ringing

Occupy Movement: Danger Bell is Ringing

Whatever the original impulse behind Occupy Wall Street, or the speculation of what the movement might become, this much is true: The groups of protesters, now camping or hanging out in many U.S. cities, and the police agencies that have responsibility for public safety and order, are both shifting into new postures of action and response. Whether that evolving chemistry will push things toward more confrontation remains unclear. But the combination new participants, new police tactics is clearly opening an uncertain chapter in a story that from its inception has embraced the notion of unplanned, unscripted civil action.

The Occupy movement is an international protest movement which is primarily directed against economic and social inequality. The first Occupy protest to be widely covered was Occupy Wall Street in New York City, taking place on September 17, 2011. By October 9, Occupy protests had taken place or were ongoing in over 95 cities across 82 countries, and over 600 communities in the United States. As of December 1 the Meetup page "Occupy Together" listed 2,686 Occupy communities worldwide. The movement was initiated by the Canadian activist group Adbusters, and partly inspired by the Arab Spring, especially Cairo's Tahrir Square protests, and the Spanish Indignants. The movement commonly uses the slogan We are the 99%, the Occupy hashtag format, and organizes through websites such as "Occupy Together". According to the Washington Post, the movement, which has been described as a "democratic awakening" by Cornel West, is difficult to distill to a few demands.

On May 30, 2011, a leader in the Spanish Indignants movement, inspired by the Arab Spring, made a call for a worldwide protest on October 15. In mid-2011, the Canadian-based group Adbusters Media Foundation, best known for its advertisement-free anti-consumerist magazine Adbusters, proposed a peaceful occupation of Wall Street to protest corporate influence on democracy, address a growing disparity in wealth, and the absence of legal repercussions behind the recent global financial crisis. "One of the inspirations for the movement was the Democracy Village set up in 2010, outside the British Parliament in London. The first protest was held at Zuccotti Park in New York City on September 17, 2011. The phrase "The 99%" is a political slogan used by protesters of the Occupy movement. It was originally launched as a Tumblr blog page in late August of 2011. It refers to the concentration of wealth among the top 1% of income earners compared to the other 99 percent; the top 1 percent of income earners nearly tripled after-tax income over the last thirty years according to a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report.

The report was released just as concerns of the Occupy Wall Street movement were beginning to enter the national political debate. According to the CBO, between 1979 and 2007 the incomes of the top 1% of Americans grew by an average of 275%. During the same time period, the 60% of Americans in the middle of the income scale saw their income rise by 40%. Since 1979 the average pre-tax income for the bottom 90% of households has decreased by $900, while that of the top 1% increased by over $700,000, as federal taxation became less progressive. Thus, the top 20% of Americans owned 85% of the country's wealth and the bottom 80% of the population owned 15%.

The movement has been described as having an "overriding commitment" to Participatory democracy. Much of the movement's democratic process occurs in "working groups," where any protestor is able to have their say. Important decisions are often taken at "General assemblies", which can themselves be informed by the findings of multiple working groups. General assemblies take place at most Occupy sites every evening at 7PM. Decisions are made using the consensus model of direct democracy, waving hands in various simple signals and operating with discussion facilitators rather than leaders, a system that may have originated in the Quaker movement several centuries ago.


In the United States, the protests have helped shift the national dialogue from the deficit to economic problems many ordinary Americans face, such as unemployment, the large amount of student and other personal debt that burdens middle class and working class Americans, and other major issues of social inequality, such as homelessness. The movement appears to have generated a national conversation about income inequality, as evidenced by the fact that print and broadcast news mentioned the term “income inequality” more than five times more often during the last week of October 2011 than during the week before the occupation began.
The increased public focus on the growing income gap between economic elites and the middle class and on the importance of the rights of ordinary workers brought about by the Occupy Movement gave a significant boost to organized labor's campaign to repeal an anti-labor union law passed in the State of Ohio known as Ohio Senate Bill 5 (SB5). In the November 2011 elections, Ohio voters repealed SB 5. In November 2011, U.S. Congressman Ted Deutch, member of the House Judiciary Committee, introduced the "Outlawing Corporate Cash Undermining the Public Interest in our Elections and Democracy (OCCUPIED) Constitutional Amendment," which would overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court decision recognizing corporate constitutionally-protected free speech rights and would ban corporate money from the electoral process.

Where India Stands

India has very unequal distribution of wealth as well. In Bihar and Orissa, the country's poorest states, at least half of the population is estimated to be under the poverty line. (This should be contrasted with only 10% in some other states). Although the rate of poverty has decreased since Independence, steady population growth means that the total number of Indians in poverty have increased. Wealth is often a crucial factor in human security. The poorest people in India are those with extremely limited resources, in terms of land, education, or social networks. If the poor are unable to make enough income to cover their most basic needs (such as food, water, fuel, shelter), it is much more difficult for them to access their right to education, health, and political participation. Likewise, it is hard for people to demand basic needs from the government if they don't have freedom.

In support, the inequality measure of Gini coefficient (with values of zero for no inequality, and one for extreme inequality) on the basis of NSS consumption data is usually cited. This Gini coefficient in 2004-05 was 0.325, and is indeed lower than in many developing countries, including China, and by constant repetition, both in national and international documents and the financial press, this has become part of the folklore about Indian inequality. But there are reasons to believe that the NSS data under-represent the rich, and in any case while for other developing countries the Gini coefficient often refers to income distribution, India's refers to distribution of consumption expenditure, which is usually less than that of income (partly because the rich tend to save more than the poor).

But ethically and socially one is more interested in inequality of opportunity rather than that of outcome (like income). After all, with the same opportunity two people can end up with different incomes, simply because one is more ambitious and hard-working than the other, and many of us may not be too worried about that as long as the opportunities are equalised. For Latin America some attempts have now been made to measure inequality of opportunity, but very little as yet in India. But in a country like India inequality of opportunity will surely depend on distribution of land, of education, and social identity -- a child born in a rural landless adivasi family with very little scope for education will be severely handicapped in her life chances for no fault of her own.

So, it can be said that unequal distribution of wealth is a matter of great concern worldwide. It should be dealt with keeping this in mind that every individual has his humanrights and it should not be suppressed. However, inequality of opportunity is rather damaging as that of unequal distribution of wealth. Ethically and socially one is more interested in inequality of opportunity rather than that of outcome (like income). After all, with the same opportunity two people can end up with different incomes, simply because one is more ambitious and hard-working than the other, and many of us may not be too worried about that as long as the opportunities are equalised.

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