Support for the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York City continues to grow as grassroots movements have begun to appear across the U.S. in cities that now include Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
The overall mission statement of the movement is, in a word, murky. But that has not stopped these various groups from speaking for themselves in universal outrage.
How are Oklahomans, as well as Americans in general, viewing a movement that, while currently in its infancy, continues to spread?
Harold Morris, OCCC political science major and active member of Occupy OKC, said the movement is a much-needed proxy for those who feel unrepresented.
“Occupy OKC was established to stand in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement representing the 99 percent of Americans whose voices are not being heard by our elected officials,” Morris said.
Oklahoma City’s Kerr Park has become home to a fluctuating number of Oklahoma City metro residents that have made the placid botanical island in the center of downtown their impromptu home for what they hope will be the foreseeable future.
The park’s new residents are using the location as an avenue for protesting issues ranging from, but not limited to, the unchecked influence major corporations are believed to have over the American political system, the increasing wealth-gap between economic classes in the U.S., and the failure to bring certain banking and corporate officials to task for their supposed involvement in the economic collapse of 2008.
Kerr Park “resident” and protestor Zakk Flash said he has been active in the protests since the earliest general assemblies of Occupy OKC, and is an organizer for their sister movement 18 miles south with Occupy Norman.
Flash believes a portion of the changes being called for have come in response to the weight of unsustainable social criterion.
“Change occurs not simply because it should or because enough people fill permitted and predetermined ‘free-speech zones,’” Flash said.
“But because the status quo becomes too difficult to maintain, whether socially, financially or politically. Strength of conviction or validity of argument is not enough.”
Oklahomans, New Yorkers and citizens of many communities across the country are beginning to see a mobilization of the disenfranchised, and a consolidation of efforts to mobilize their various grievances like those being voiced in Kerr Park
Oklahoma native, small business operator and Orlando, Fla., resident Vik D said he feels the movement’s apparent lack of a central message is more a strength than a weakness.
“The thing is, is that people are pissed and they’re pissed for many reasons,” D said.
“If this was a protest against just one of the ways the people are getting screwed then it might have been difficult to find thousands of people who are particularly pissed about a single issue.”
New York City resident Mark Barry has interacted with the protestors at what has become the de facto “ground zero” for the movement in lower-Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park and greets the growing protests with enthusiasm and also points out the merits of a message that isn’t necessarily “universal.”
“I don’t agree with everything I hear [in Zuccotti Park] but I don’t have to. That’s part of the beauty of the movement, different ideas and viewpoints being put out into the marketplace,” Barry said via phone call.
“That’s the essence of democracy and what makes this country great.”
One point many protestors and citizens agree on is they feel finances have become too at-home in the political arena.
“How many American can think their vote matters, when special interest groups, also known as lobbyists, are pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into politicians’ pockets, is astounding,” Barry said.
D echoed the point, citing the wealth disparity between citizens and their elected officials.
“One percent of the people are millionaires and 50 percent of Congress are millionaires,” D said.
“We are not being represented and the difference is that the conservatives want laws that favor millionaires because they were taught that they have the opportunity to achieve that; whereas a lot of the rest of us are aware that it’s a rigged game.”
An increasing number of comparisons have been made that compare the Occupy movements to those of the multiple “Arab Spring” protests occurring over the last year in much of the Middle East including Libya, Syria, Egypt and Tunisia. But Americans are hesitant to attach complete symmetry between the two movements.
“They’re both protests against corrupt systems which have resulted in poverty and the equivalent of servitude. But I think the similarities probably end there,” Barry said.
“While I agree many of the goals are ideologically similar — namely, corruption of government by casino capitalists and a rejection of strong handed tactics by authoritarian governments — I hesitate to correlate the two in such terms,” Flash said.
Whether the movement continues to gain strength as time passes will be something that will force supporters and detractors both to “wait and see,” but there is no denying that a great many hopeful voices are being raised at a time when hope may seem to be in short supply.
“In times like these it behooves us to remember that democracy isn’t dying — it is being killed,” Flash said.
“And those who are killing it have names and addresses.”
Barry said seeing people fight back puts a smile on his face.
“I am happy, you might even say relieved, that somebody is finally taking a stand against what is and always has been an inequitable system designed to maintain the status quo,” Barry said.
While unsure of its ultimate direction or fate, Morris is optimistic about the movement.
“Where will the Occupy Wall Street/OKC movement lead? No one knows. But the movement is making a difference already,” Morris said.
“The media is no longer only talking about debt and austerity, but are instead now talking about unemployment, the mortgage crisis, the occupy protests, and the economy in general.”
The Occupy OKC protestors were granted an initial three-day permit to assemble at Kerr Park that is open to daily renewal by the City Council.
The Occupy Wall Street movement began, in earnest, Sept. 17 when Zuccotti Park became flooded with protestors who gathered in an attempt to confront social injustices they believe to be occurring in the U.S.
To contact Sean M. Tolbert,