Occupy Wall Street

Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

Why Wall Street occupied so many minds in 2011

by Jennie Wood
Occupy Wall Street / Adbusters

Poster Credit: Adbusters

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Occupy Wall Street began on September 17, 2011, as an organized protest in Zuccotti Park, in New York City's financial district. The movement quickly spread to other cities across the U.S., including Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Occupy Wall Street defined itself as a group of activists who stand against corporate greed, social inequality, and the enormous gap between the rich and poor. We are the 99%, the Occupy Wall Street protest slogan, referred to the difference between the richest 1% and the rest of the population in the United States. Organizers were inspired by the anti-government uprising in Egypt, the social justice demonstrations in Israel, and the political protests in Spain earlier this year.

Time Right for Movement

On July 13, 2011, Kalle Lasn, editor of the Canadian anti-consumerist magazine Adbusters, and some colleagues created a new hash tag for Twitter: #OCCUPYWALLSTREET. With growing frustration over a stalled economy in the U.S., Lasn felt the time was right to create a movement. Lasn and his Adbusters comrades also came up with the official date when the occupation would start, the idea of protestors camping out, and an iconic poster to define the movement. The poster showed a ballerina dancing on the back of a bull near Wall Street.

The movement started with a few hundred people sleeping overnight in Zuccotti Park, subsisting on supplies and a steady stream of money donated from individuals and businesses throughout the U.S. In October, a tent called the People's Library sprouted up and offered free internet and more than 5,000 books to protestors.

Occupy Wall Street continued to grow throughout the fall. On October 1, more than 700 arrests were made as activists marched across the Brooklyn Bridge. On October 5, thousands of union workers marched with the Occupy Wall Street protestors through New York City's Financial District. On October 15, rallies were staged in 900 cities throughout the world, including Chicago, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Paris, Tokyo, Berlin, Sydney, Hong Kong and many more. Thousands of Occupy Wall Street activists rallied in New York City's Times Square. More than 70 arrests were made in New York City and 175 protestors were arrested in Chicago.

Violence Erupts

On October 25, police raided and closed the Occupy Oakland encampment in Frank Ogawa Park. While clearing the park, police arrested more than 100 protestors. Several Occupy Wall Street activists were injured, including Scott Olsen, an Iraqi war veteran. Olsen's skull was fractured when a teargas container reportedly struck him in the head. A week later on November 2, the Port of Oakland was shut down by demonstrators.

After a peaceful march in downtown Oakland on November 3, the Occupy Wall Street movement again turned violent when a small group of about 100 demonstrators broke windows, burned garbage, and sprayed graffiti. The same group briefly took over a vacant building that was once home to the Traveler's Aid Society, a non-profit organization that provided services to the local homeless. Police officers warned the group to leave, then fired tear gas and bean bag rounds into the building. Dozens of protesters were arrested. In the days after the violence in Oakland, officials issued several warnings to the protestors to abandon their camp. On November 14th, police officers in riot gear raided the Occupy Oakland encampment and arrested 33 protesters.

Public Safety and Health Concerns

Officials in other cities started to disband Occupy Wall Street camps citing public safety and health concerns. During a sweep of Zuccotti Park on November 15, 140 protesters were arrested and the People's Library was closed and most of its books were destroyed. On the same day a judge ruled that the city had the right to enforce the rule against camping in the park. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg defended clearing the park by saying that health and safety conditions had become intolerable. Sixteen hours after the police sweep, protesters were allowed back in park, but they were not allowed to sleep there overnight. Two days later, hundreds of protestors attempting to prevent traders from getting to Wall Street scuffled with police. At least 50 protestors were arrested. Some traders had difficulty getting to work, but the stock exchange opened for trading on time.

Some protestors responded to police shutting down Occupy Wall Street camps by moving to college campuses, including Harvard in Cambridge, Mass., and the University of California, Berkeley. On November 21, a video showing two University of California, Davis, police officers using pepper spray at close range on seated, passive protesters went viral. The video led to demands that Chancellor Linda P. B. Katehi resign. Katehi did not resign, but she took full responsibility for the incident. She placed the two police officers and the police chief were put on leave and called for the creation of a task force to review the incident. In late November, while police in cities such as Los Angeles and Philadelphia raided and cleared encampments, offshoots of the Occupy Wall Street movement continued to spread to college campuses where, especially in California, where protestors shifted some of their focus to tuition increases.

Occupy One Year Later

On September 17, 2012, the one-year anniversary of the first Occupy Wall Street demonstration, 185 arrests were made as protesters attempted to block access to the New York Stock Exchange. On the anniversary, rallies were also held in other parts of New York City and in more than 30 cities around the world. However, for most of 2012, the movement struggled to maintain momentum and receive attention like it did in 2011. For example, Occupy Charlotte and Occupy Tampa demonstrated during the 2012 Democratic and Republican conventions, but received far less media attention than the protests in the fall and winter of 2011. The movement did remain vital throughout 2012 in Oakland, California. Occupy Oakland started off 2012 with a January protest that turned violent. Over 400 Occupy Oakland members were arrested and three police officers were injured during that protest. Occupy Oakland continued organizing protests throughout 2012, including a large one on May Day. The May Day demonstration was so large that it forced many businesses to close.

Even as Occupy Wall Street celebrated its one-year anniversary it was too soon to tell what the long-term effects of the movement would be, but protestors clearly succeeded in raising awareness of social and economic inequality for several weeks. There was an increase in news stories about income inequality and a spike in online searches for terms like 99 percent and one percent throughout the fall of 2011. Even though the largest camps had been closed down by December 2011, Occupy Wall Street protestors still continued online throughout 2012, sending out messages and tweets like "You can't evict and idea."

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