Something that has come up twice so far in my Geographies of Globalisation class this semester is the Occupy Wall Street movement. This is a very interesting development because a big (but obviously not the only!) part of trying to think geographically entails identifying objects that don’t seem to fit into a particular location – objects that stand out, that deviate from some sort of a pattern – and then trying to understand what might be the significance of their presence there.
As such, it should be of general interest to geographers when we see protestors (perhaps wearing casual clothes like jeans, caps, and ‘hoodies’) standing and shouting outside the glass and steel offices of large, multinational investment banks or stock brokers, in a place, that is, where we don’t usually see them; a place in which the normal dress, say, is smart formal and the only shouting to be heard (and I’m definitely having to hazard a guess here) might be the call of one broker to another: ‘Buy US bonds, dump Euros’.
So the protestors stand out. Intentionally, of course. And in doing so, in being present and loud and an obstruction to the daily business of the investors, traders, brokers and numerous other workers in Wall Street, they force us to ask why they are there. In this sense, then, their action is working: they are drawing attention to the place in which they are protesting; forcing us all to ask what might be wrong with the normal daily practices that occur in this place, in Wall Street? What is it that happens here that compel thousands of people to attempt to occupy it? Why not ‘Occupy Times Square’? Or ‘Occupy Brooklyn Bridge’? Clearly, it is Wall Street’s location within the constellation of financial deals, movements, and trades that matters. It is the centrality of Wall Street, its position at the heart of all the decisions contributing to the crises that seem to be coming together now and chopping away at our standards of living, our means of social reproduction. So while Times Square and what it represents isn’t by any means irrelevant to the crises we are dealing with, the occupation movement is focusing on Wall Street because it is within that small area that so many decisions affecting us all are made; and it is in Wall Street that so many of the beneficiaries of those decisions – the 1%, the richest 1% of the US population – make or keep their money. Occupying Wall Street therefore helps to focus our attention on the uneven geographical development of capitalism, on the power that seems to get concentrated in a few relatively small areas, and the problematic way in which that power is often exercised. Standing in the street and shouting, being somewhere you’re not welcome, can achieve a lot. [Sorry, but I don’t want to take on the question of whether it’s enough.]
Of course, there are, without any question, lots of other reasons why this is an interesting development. There’s the emphasis on claiming back public spaces, the desire to use open general assemblies to make decisions, the explicit effort to combine rallies on the streets with an online campaign, and much more. Look out for the inevitable outpouring of Geography journal articles on the topic in the next few years!
Let me now finish this by posting a few links to further information:
* An unofficial but certainly updated and rich resource is the following web site: https://occupywallst.org/
* There’s a live stream with a good chatroom on the right in which to interact here.
* The Guardian has a section dedicated to the developments here.
* Adbusters are definitely on this one.
* There are some interesting comments and great pics at Juan Cole’s blog.
* You can follow a lot of what’s going on from Twitter at: http://twitter.com/#!/OccupyWallSt
* There’s even some scope for fans of celebrity culture to have fun occupying Wall Street. Big time (early 1990s?) comedian Roseanne Barr has been on site and Susan Sarandon has spoken there. The one and absolutely only Russell Simmons has also spoken, as has Lupe Fiasco, who has featured elsewhere in this blog.
* Finally, I suppose there must be some way to use Facebook to follow it all but without having joined the 10% of the human race already on FB, I can’t make any suggestions here..