Debate Forum Topic, 10/11/11

Occupy Wall Street: Is there a coherent message?

Protestors at the Occupy Dayton protest on Wednesday, October 5. Photo by Nicole Wroten.

Protestors at the Occupy Dayton protest on Wednesday, October 5. Photo by Nicole Wroten.

On Wednesday, Oct. 5, protestors in Dayton sympathetically gathered to express their dissenting opinions about the conduct of the U.S. banking industry. What began as a grassroots protest against excesses on Wall Street three weeks ago has grown to a nationwide movement with solidarity rallies being held across the country. The initial protests in New York City, called “Occupy Wall Street,” started Sept. 17 and have since spread to other cities. Recently the movement, which was made up of groups of mostly young people that have referred to themselves as anarchists, has been joined by labor unions, Democrat politicians and liberal groups like As the movement continues to attract more supporters, there is an emerging question from news media and outside observers: Does Occupy Wall Street have a coherent message and, if so, exactly what is that message?

A Canadian activist group called Adbusters, originally called for the protest against Wall Street. Adbusters, which describes itself as “a global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new social activist movement of the information age,” took inspiration from the Arab Spring movement and from the “Spanish Indignants.” Based on their manifesto, the participants in the event are mainly protesting against social and economic inequality, corporate greed, and the influence of corporate money and lobbyists on government, among other concerns. One central demand of the protest is that President Obama “ordain a presidential commission tasked with ending the influence money has over our representatives in Washington.”

As more groups join into the fray, the list of demands and causes also grows. There are demands such as raising taxes on the rich and on corporations, ending corporate welfare, supporting trade unionism, and protecting Medicare and Social Security in their traditional forms. Other protesters are calling for an audit or the elimination of the Federal Reserve, ending the death penalty, dismantling the military-industrial complex and ending all wars. An unofficial list of demands on the Occupy Wall Street website ( included, but was not limited to: Raising the minimum wage to $20 an hour, instituting a universal single-payer healthcare system, providing free college education, open borders migration allowing anyone to travel anywhere to work and live, and the immediate and across the board forgiveness of all debt for all.

In the last few days, criticism of the lack of a more coherent agenda became an issue that split the encampment along two lines: Those who want to draft focused demands about the unequal distribution of wealth in the U.S. and those who want the protest to remain wide ranging. At present there is no official list of demands.
The protest has been criticized for its lack of focus and unrealistic actionable agenda. In an article that was critical of the protesters, Ginia Bellafante wrote in The New York Times, “The group’s lack of cohesion and its apparent wish to pantomime progressivism rather than practice it knowledgeably is unsettling in the face of the challenges so many of its generation face — finding work, repaying student loans, figuring out ways to finish college when money has run out.”

Forum Question of the Week:
Do the Occupy Wall Street (and Occupy Dayton) protestors have a coherent message to deliver about their cause?

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