Occupy Wall Street: will it do any good?

The Occupation of Wall Street started on September 17th.  A month and a few high profile arrests later, and the movement is on the protest map.  How long the activists will brave the colder weather is anyone’s guess – but in Zuccotti Park it’s what is on everyone’s mind. 




Occupy Wall Street has neither leader nor organization – but there is a distinct buzz to the place.  There is a web site for daily updates and you can donate there as well, of course.  (In case you’re wondering where that money would go, this being a leaderless movement, if you click through that link, it directs you to the Alliance for Global Justice.)


Ironically enough, this movement which opposes the practices of financial institutions has done better than expected at raising the green stuff (cash, that is).  They have $435,000 in the coffers so they had to create a new working group to determine how to manage it (everything is handled by concensus down in Zuccotti Park).


So the movement has some money and support from notable people (writer Naomi Wolf was arrested this week, Dr. Cornell West was arrested last week, Russell Simmons made an appearance last week, and Alec Baldwin showed his support this week).  It also has appealed to educated professionals.  On Monday, there were teachers, historians, librarians, media professionals, and former Wall Street workers.  And they all seem to have rational and thoughtful reasons for being there.  (That said, one nice gentleman from Portland, Oregon told me he traveled to New York City because a dragon encouraged him to do so.  I had to have him repeat that for the microphone to be sure I heard him correctly.)


One not minor problem though: So far, the group has intentionally avoided declaring a goal.  “We Are the 99-Percent” is their rallying cry, as a way to object to the wealthiest one-percent in the country.  But beyond that, they haven’t agreed to a specific mission.  It’s a message that resonates with many folks (who doesn’t feel they don’t make fair pay?). 


However, as Dana Fisher explains, that’s not enough to force action by either the government or the bankers that the movement is targeting.  Fisher is Director of the Program for Society and the Environment at the University of Maryland where she focuses on the history of civic activism in the United States.  The movement may enjoy overwhelming support by the public according to the polls, but she says, based on this country’s history of protests, it’ll be business as usual for the likes of President Obama or Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs.


That is, unless they determine a platform.  We shall see if these idealists can agree to one before the first frost sets in.  My guess is that there are Wall Street bankers making bets on that, too.