Critiquing Occupy

If you haven't heard of the Occupy movement by now, then you live in a cave. For the past several weeks, angry Americans have taken to the streets saying that corporate greed is ruining the country. The solution: well, that remains to be decided.

As a student in Chicago, I've been exposed to Occupy. At first my feelings towards it were of respect. I initially thought it was courageous that people were voicing their concerns to the public and raising awareness of the shrinking middle class - we are a "democracy", and these people I believed were just putting their rights to use.

However, last week I had to attend a General Assembly meeting at Occupy Chicago and two Occupy members spoke personally with my class. These two encounters changed my mind on my feelings towards the movement.

Here are my two (or three or four) cents, for what it's worth. First, I was struck by the disorganization and lack of planning that Occupy has. The two speakers that I heard had very contradictory goals they wanted to see accomplished through Occupy. When asked what the goal of Occupy was, they both fumbled for answers and finally admitted that they didn't know. "We just want to end corporate greed", one answered. Well...that's all fine and good, but chanting on the streets in masks and showing up drunk to the Occupy protests does absolutely nothing.

Secondly, the General Assembly has what they call a "people's mic", which basically means you repeat everything, and I mean everything, that the speaking says. If you don't, you get yelled at. This was not only annoying and distracting (as I often forgot what the first half of the sentence was by the time we finished the sentence), but it also felt cult-like. From what the two speakers told me, the General Assembly meetings take the form of a participatory democracy (so motions get passed with a 90% majority). But instead of being a democracy, I felt more like it was a dictatorship when being forced to repeat all that was being said.

Thirdly, I'm finding the movement extremely hypocritical. The "99%" that are marching the streets don't really represent the 99%. Those who are being marginalized by corporate greed can't take time off their jobs to march aimlessly in the streets all day. Those who are on the streets claiming to be the "99%" are in fact the upper half of the 99%. Furthermore, most of the actual 99% are not white, but one look at the Occupy crowds nationwide show a very homogeneously white group.
Source: Racialicious

Even more hypocritical is that the Occupy protesters want to decolonize Wall Street, but I think they forget that those who are protesting are, in fact, colonizers. In case anybody has forgotten, this country was founded upon colonialism. New York City lies on Haudenosaunee territory. Manhattan was home to the Lenape (read more). We took this land from the Native Americans. If there is to be redistribution of wealth, the people we have marginalized from the start of this country should be compensated (for more on "decolonizing Wall Street", check out this article on Racialicious).

My last point of criticism, and to me the most hypocritical aspect of the Occupy movement, is that those of us who claim to be part of the 99% are in fact part of the global 1%. Those who are protesting have college degrees and make some sort of living while only 6% of the rest of the world has a college degree and most live on only dollars a day. So are we really part of the 99%? I don't think so.

Don't get me wrong, I think the greed in this country needs to desperately be addressed. I don't think capitalism is working for this country (capitalism in fact keeps those who are poor in the world poor for our - the 99% - benefit). The system is obviously broken and it needs to be fixed; the sooner the better. But marching on the street in ridiculous masks, smelling of alcohol, and joining on the band-wagon just because you are a "rebellious/liberal" college student is not going to do anything.

Until something more reasonable comes along, I'll remain skeptical of the movement and watch as it disintegrates during the winter.

Author's note: I'd rather see these protesters prepping to rally against the NATO and G8 summit in Chicago in May because that might actually begin to identify those keeping the global 99% poor.


  1. Karen, I love reading your blog! Such important points, as always!

  2. Aw, thanks Carly! I really appreciate it! :) Thanks again for reading!

  3. Anonymous29.11.11

    So you interviewed two people. I know it's really disorganised. You did good on targetting two drunk people to interview. Next time select the ones that look as though they haven't had a bath in months. That way you'll come up with a scientific conclusion that yes infact the movement is a leftist socialist whinge whine movement. Congratulations.

    Oh and that picture is pretty absurd. Next time we'll get the real 99% as you deem in the pic to show up to protest. We'll fly them from Africa.

  4. Thank you for your opinions Anonymous. The two people that I spoke to were not drunks. They seemed like normal and respectable people who I would otherwise respect very much. I just think that if two people who head up the Chicago section don't know what its about, then what hope is there for the overall success of the movement?

    I know its impossible to get the global 99% to be represented in OWS. The point I was trying to make was that many of us whine about how poor we are but we often forget that we have it better than the majority of the world. I'm not saying we should shut up and not try to make the situation better for us, but I am trying to say that we need to remember that there are more people in the world worse off than us who have no way to represent themselves like those in the Occupy movement.

    Also, I am not against the 'goals' of Occupy at all. I think there needs to be better wealth distribution in N. America and that people's wealth right now are not reflective of how hard they work. But I am unsure of if the tactics of Occupy are the right way to get change. Am I wrong?


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