‘Occupy’ becomes local movement

From left: Protestors Willeum Boy, Marc Wakat and Jerry Carter occupy the streets of Kankakee. Photo by Ethan Barse.

By Jenny White

Frustrations with the 2008 downturn of the economy and the metonymy “Wall Street” have culminated in the global Occupy Wall Street movement, which involves protests in over 900 cities worldwide.

“This is democracy at its finest,” said ONU business professor Donald Daake. “Protesters have every right to be doing what they are [doing].”

At the start of October, these “occupiers” began protesting in Kankakee outside the courthouse, standing in solidarity with the original Zuccotti Park occupiers.

But with what exactly are protesters frustrated? Is it the system of capitalism or corrupt capitalism? Increased wealth disparity? Labor standards?

Housing policy? The list of complaints is long and somewhat varied, and to label it strictly an economic rebellion is too reductionist.

Politicians have characterized the movement as counterproductive, jumbled and misguided, CNN reported on Oct. 23.

The statement of injustices adopted by Kankakee protesters can be found on the New York City General Assembly’s website at www.nycga.net/resources/declaration.

“In summation, [this movement] is a result of the population’s discontent with the way big money has usurped the political process, and disenfranchised the citizens of the United States. We demand complete transparency in the decision-making processes which affect all of us,” said

Occupy Kankakee protestor Joe Boyer.

Protesters Boyer, Jerry Carter and Rich McGillen initially organized the local Occupy movement via Facebook.

About 20 people attended their first meeting on Sunday, Oct. 8, in front of the Kankakee County Courthouse, and the protests have been gaining attention and participants since then.

“We are not only protesting government and corporations, we are also giving citizens the opportunity to join in on this very important issue,” Carter said. “This movement transcends parties and partisanship.”

But in order to judge the outcome of the Occupy movement, whether in Zuccotti Park or Kankakee, it is essential to determine what the goal of protesting is. Is the aim simply to raise public outcry, or is it to lobby and to change policy as it relates to the U.S. financial market?

“Nothing has changed in corporate America since these protests began, because right now the Occupy movements are simply a social protest,” said ONU political science professor David Claborn.

Although the Occupy protests are far less developed at this point, some have likened them to the Tea Party Patriots movement, which began its protests against political and economic corruption and irresponsibility in January 2009.

“Occupy Wall Street is essentially a leftist variation of the Tea Party movement,” said political science major Matt Van Dyke.

In the U.S., the Tea Party Patriots have had their success, lobbying for candidates in the 2010 election cycle and enacting changes such as the Contract from America and the Pledge to America, which propose changes regarding tax and federal spending. Abroad we see the recent successes of social and political uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria. Perhaps the Occupy movement will have similar success if it follows these patterns.

What the movement needs is a bit more focus, especially in regards to lobbying. Also, protesters need to rally strictly in public locations, which hasn’t been the case given the hundreds of arrests that have taken place worldwide since the protests began.

While no arrests or extreme scenarios have taken place within the Occupy Kankakee movement, many residents have their concerns about the protesting.

“How many of these problems are improved by an ongoing demonstration?” said Daily Journal columnist Dennis Yohnka. “People standing alongside a street somewhere and sleeping in a park are not upgrading their employability. People who have yet to formulate a defined suggestion for how to fix the problem – are they making this situation any better?”

Because there is plenty of frustration, angry protesters need to determine where the blame should be placed.

Some believe protesters only have themselves to blame for personal economic situations.

“Instead of occupying a city, protesters should occupy a paid position,” said senior Todd Weiderman.

Of course there are positive facets that political commentators are noticing, such as the leaderless system of the Occupy movements, which has further underscored protestors’ opposition to rigid economic and social hierarchy. It seems as though most protesters understand that there might not be a definitive end goal just yet.

Only time will tell what the result of the occupation will be. However, despite the media coverage that has been paid to the situation, protests will die out if new policy is not lobbied for and enacted.

“It’s only natural for this to end eventually,” Daake said. “It is very likely that as it gets colder outside, the protests will begin to flame out.”

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