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Occupy Everywhere—Protest against Wall Street and Banking System goes global
20 October 2011 Thursday 05:58 AM Views: 2638 times

Quiet fear, unable to fully understand what is happening and awaiting death or any other destiny – it seems ever since the beginning of the economic crisis people have been hiding in bunkers of silence. One bad news followed the next, dropping like bombs on their shelters of stillness: in 2007 the housing bubble in the US burst, then Lehman brothers bank went bankrupt, after the global recession kicked in, now the banking system gets bad ratings, US and EU states are drowning in debt, and some, most notably Greece, are on a brink of a full-blown collapse of their finances.

The global economic crisis has not provoked much protest yet compared to its impact worldwide. Only in Spain protests began in May this year, as youth unemployment here reaches 40 percent. About a month ago people assembled in New York to “Occupy Wall Street” and state their disapproval with the economic situation and banking system in the US. On October 15 finally an overdue reaction of the global public: via the Internet people organized the protest “Occupy Together”. In more than 900 cities in 82 countries people broke their silence with “Occupy” demonstrations and vented their anger. EMAJ reporters looked at four of the cities: New York, London, Amsterdam and Hamburg.

NEW YORK - “The whole world is watching, the whole world is watching”

New York City protesters were aware that people worldwide were looking at them when the “Occupy Wall Street” movement started at Zuccotti Park, in the heart of the Financial District. On September 17 few people gathered right behind Wall Street to protest against financial corporations. On October 15 with 50,000 “indignados” (more than expectations) occupied Times Square, the symbol of consumerism and wealth.

Right before 6pm a flood of people flew into the square to celebrate the day the whole world occupied cities in solidarity with New York. Times Square shouted for joy when the ABC billboard displayed news about the movement, “The Occupy Wall Street protest goes worldwide”. People here feel that something revolutionary has taken the first steps along New York’s streets. People are here asking to stop the war and tax the rich. Women, men, children, student and old people: all together, everyone with something to care about: jobs, education, equality, and citizen’s rights. “We want to thank people from all over the world”, said Christina, student from New York. “Worldwide cities are protesting in solidarity with us, I do think we are moving on the right track”.

LONDON - Police bar protesters from getting to London Stock Exchange

About 2,000 protestors gathered in front of St Paul’s cathedral in London, in the heart of UK’s financial district. But their plans to occupy the square which is home to the London Stock Exchange and investment banks Goldman Sachs in Merrill Lynch were blocked by police that kettled the crowd and forced it back to St Paul’s.

No major showdowns occurred between the largely peaceful protesters and the police, but two people are reported to have been arrested for assaults on officers.

Once back at St Paul’s, the protesters began a “general assembly” to discuss agenda and further steps. Among the people addressing the assembly was also Wikileaks founder Julian Assange who slated the “greedy and corrupt” financial and political system.

First tents started popping up in later afternoon as people prepared to stay overnight. Among them was student Houda Cheikha, 21, from London, who broke the vague discourse of the Occupy movement by condemning the system of fractional reserve banking:

“I’m here today to promote gold and silver as the new currency, as opposed to paper money which is an empty promise, just paper.”

“The whole system with paper and interest, it’s just not morally acceptable,” she says.

Dissatisfaction has been growing in Britain amidst cuts in public spending for healthcare and education, growing unemployment and the general poor state of the economy.

But in the past week, this sentiment has been spurred even further by news of tax avoidance by the richest British multinationals, which according to reports cost the country about 18bn pounds per year. This was rounded off by a revelation last week that investment bank Goldman Sachs had been let off by the government of paying 10m pounds in interest after botching a tax avoidance scheme.

Houda Cheikha protesting in London

HAMBURG – “I´m not dumb, I want to work!”

The sun shines on this Indian summer Saturday, people are out browsing through shops on the shopping street, everything seems to be business as usual. Hamburg is a symbol of trade with Germany’s biggest harbour and thereby a landmark for the successful export nation. In Germany, not as many people are directly affected by the global recession. The unemployment rate in 2010 was only at around 8%, the social security system functions far better than in the US and it is considered to be the motor of economy in Europe, not only due to its high export rates and successful enterprises. Still, people in Germany have reasons to join the protests – 2000 people came together in the city-center of Hamburg.

For example Michael Kelb (25) got sick of injustice and came alone from Rostock to meet people, who feel the same. “It’s the day of all the problems!” a speaker on the stage screams out. Michael climbs on a statue in front of the city hall. The mass wave raised arms as a sign of agreement.

Greet Boeer (61) from the Netherlands, lost her retirement money after the bank collapsed.

Reading the smiling faces of tens of Dutch pensioners with orange traffic vests and horns, it might seam like a festival. They lost their retirement money due to the bank collapse.

Gillian (32) from Ireland, holds a sign “Dear Mr. Greedy, a job is a right. Give back what you´ve taken out. Sincerely, 99%.” She has been living in Hamburg for two and half years. Not because her boyfriend Jan is from here. The interior designer couldn’t find a job in Ireland. She is a part-time English teacher here. “I want to have work and a family one day, but I cannot do that,” she says.

Jan, German, and Gillian, Irish, wish to have a family together one day.

Many in her family found work out of Ireland. Her brother, for example, in Hongkong. “But I would want to live in Ireland!” she quickly adds. The government and the big businesses, she thinks, should support small ones. This would create more jobs, and in return, would boost the economy. Right now, if they cannot find specialists in their country, they look for them outside. It is also in big businesses’ interest to have stronger economy, Gillian exclaims. She smiles to her boyfriend: “I’m not dumb. I want to work!”

Under the big sign “Geld ist nicht essbar!” (“Money is not edible!”) there are five empty Hamburg’s trademarks, Astra Beer bottles. Alexander (36), the author of the sign, just finished one of them. “I am here to seek for a better future for my three kids!” he jollily exclaims. His 7-year-old daughter and 3-year-old twin boys are at home in Lübeck. Alexander works as a salesman, tourist guide and a house caretaker. “I pay taxes and I don’t know where it goes. I saw it on TV, but I don’t believe what they say. I want social peace!”

Alexander (36) wonders where his taxes go

In Berlin, 10,000 people met in front of the parliament. And in Frankfurt 5,000 people assembled to the cities banking quarter and the European Central Bank. Germans are especially tired of the Euro-crisis and EU stability fund. The debt crisis slowly seems to becoming a burden on the nation’s economic growth: only a few days ago growth rate predictions have plummeted. Germany still won’t be in recession, however the growth rate for 2012 was estimated to be at 2% in spring, now is expected to be only 0.8%.


In its most significant show of force and in a bid to gain further momentum, the growing social protest sweeping the world has also got the Dutch joining in in a demonstration at the heart of Amsterdam.

A stone’s throw from the local branches of McDonald’s, KFC and other familiar and contested symbols of Americanization, demonstrators – as many as 1000, according to Dutch media reports – started gathering from noon on at the Beursplein – a small square in front of the Euro-American owned stock exchange corporation NYSE Euronext.

As if to illustrate the movement’s attempt to mainstream its message, one speaker was singing with the crowd, “tell me what democracy looks like” – and they answered, “this is what democracy looks like”.

On September 17, when the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations broke, a handful of Dutchmen who wished to express solidarity pitched a couple of tents at the same square. On that day, the rather provisory protest was overshadowed by a flock of teenage girls, marching down the Damrak boulevard with banners for Justin Bieber, whose screams were heard from the other end of the street.

Today, however, the peaceful demonstration managed to block the normally busy street at the heart of the Dutch capital. Paper slips printed by the organizers had instructions on avoiding confrontations, but the few policemen scattered along the street were mostly busy diverting traffic away.

Filling the small square was a manifestation of creativity – not only witty placards, but also elaborately designed costumes, each with its own message. But it seems some believe this is the wrong way. “Dressing up like hippies, zombies or Indians does more harm than good,” a commenter wrote on the Amsterdam page on the global protest website 15october.net. “Wear a suit, wear a tie, take a shower and leave the face paint at home. The people watching have to ask ‘why am I not with these guys?’, not ‘these people are freaks.’”

Nevertheless, whether comprised of more protesters or more spectators, the event was an opportunity for different groups to proliferate their messages. At one corner of the square, Jelena, a Slovenian member of the Zeitgiest Movement, was handing out fliers for the international grassroots group advocating sustainability. An elderly Dutch lady, however, tried telling her that she should look at the glass-half-full, because the world’s still nice and good whatever happens.

Another explanation was to be found with a different person standing nearby. A member of a Kabbalistic group, he was distributing leaflets in Dutch explaining, according to him, the origin of the crisis. In sum, the Seattleite told me, it’s about egoism. But indeed deterministic, he agreed, egoism is in fact “in our nature.”

The Netherlands is indeed still faring better than other countries, in Europe and outside, but it’s still not perfect, one young Dutch guy told me. “A change will not come overnight,” he decisively reiterated the cliché when asked about how effective this demonstration actually is. “This is how it starts. It’s about raising awareness.”

And democracy was indeed at the heart of the speeches, but the various speakers – standing in a back of a van – were addressing a wide range of issues, from the economic crisis and capitalism to climate change and nuclear energy.

Most speeches were in Dutch, but appropriately for Amsterdam – one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world – some were in English with speakers coming from as far as the United States and Chile.

As their backdrop , the now NYSE Euronext at Beursplein 5 is the modern incarnation of what’s considered to be the world’s oldest stock exchange. Much like in the course of its more than 400 years of existence, participants at the demonstration were trading futures and options – only this time in the form of ideas and opinions, and for free. “Stock markets started here, they will end here,” predicted one banner. The realization of this investment is yet to be seen – and also to be done.

Texts and photos by: Elena Roda (New York), Peter Cernuta (London), Ido Liven (Amsterdam), Marian Männi and Sophia Pfisterer (Hamburg)


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