Occupy goes global

October 17, 2011

Elizabeth Schulte and Alan Maass report on the new reach of the Occupy movement.

THE OCCUPY movement that began in New York City's financial district has spread around the country--and now around the world.

Saturday, October 15, was an international day of action to take the Occupy movement in the U.S. global--a fitting step forward since the demonstrations in New York City and now around the U.S. were inspired by the revolts and rebellions throughout this year in the Arab world and Europe.

It's impossible to list all the places where people--fed up with a world run for profit and greed, and reeking of political corruption and inequality--turned out to raise their voices. The United for Global Change website reported that demonstrations took place 951 cities in 82 countries--and that's probably an understatement.

The day's protests began while it was still October 14 almost everywhere else in the world. New Zealand and Australia were represented by several demonstrations each. Though it wasn't mentioned often in the media, Asia saw turnouts in a number of countries--from Japan, still enduring the damage of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown; to Thailand and Malaysia; and India, where the Occupy movement connected with ongoing struggles against corruption.

Protesters marching at Occupy Berlin
Protesters marching at Occupy Berlin (James Rea)

"I'm here because young Japanese people are suffering for losing their jobs, but not many speak out their issue to the public," said Kesao Murakami, who was among some 200 people who marched through Tokyo. "I really want young people to appeal forcefully to the public saying, 'We are in trouble.'"

The media did focus on the big protests in Europe, where the Occupy movement has direct ancestors in the "movement of the squares" in Spain and Greece earlier this year.

Violent clashes in Rome between police and protesters dominated much of the U.S. media coverage, but less reported was the decidedly broad cross-section of Italians angry at the status quo--presided over by corrupt, billionaire media baron President Silvio Berlusconi. "We don't feel represented by the government. We feel made fun of," Alessia Tridici, an 18-year-old protester in Rome, told the New York Times. "We're upset because we don't have prospects for the future. We'll never see a pension. We'll have to work until we die."

Those sentiments could be heard across Europe at demonstrations inspired by Occupy Wall Street and organized in opposition to government austerity measures being forced down workers' throats. Occupy London turned out some 3,000 people for its rally at St. Paul's Cathedral, and later set up tents for the occupation to begin.

In France, where the government of President Nicolas Sarkozy is pushing for anti-worker measures he claims will curb the deficit, people took to the streets. "You are not listening to us, whatever we do, however we vote, however we demonstrate," a protester in Belleville told CNN. "We can't go on like this, so we are getting out and showing ourselves."

Spain was blanketed by protests--an example of the slogans of the indignados from last spring echoing across the Atlantic to the U.S., and bouncing back again. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators gathered in Madrid's Plaza de Cibeles, and hundreds of thousands of protesters came out in Barcelona.

IN THE U.S., where the Occupy movement got its start just four weeks ago, up to 100,000 people came out to Times Square for the high point of a day of protests on October 15.

Over the past weeks, Occupy Wall Street has captured the imaginations of many New Yorkers fed up with being asked to tighten their belts while Corporate America profits hand over fist--and more and more are adding their voices to the movement, and helping to organize and expand it.

Working-class New York has put its mark on Occupy Wall Street as the New York labor movement has joined in the struggle--from individual workers and their families to some of the biggest unions. On the Friday before the massive day of action, labor solidarity played the key role in turning back Mayor Michael Bloomberg's plan to evict occupiers from Liberty Plaza (formerly known as Zuccotti Park) with the claim that protesters had to leave so the park could be "cleaned up."

The response to Bloomberg was immediate, from Occupy activists and far beyond. The AFL-CIO and 1199SEIU called on members to defend the Liberty Plaza, and hundreds of union members responded overnight to a call to defend the encampment. Thousands of people were in the plaza when the city's deadline came and went--and officials announced that they were backing down from their threat.

This victory over the New York's mayor and the police made Saturday's day of action bigger and more confident than ever. Antiwar protesters who mobilized to mark the 10th anniversary of the Afghanistan War joined with a labor march to Washington Square Park. From there, protesters went to Times Square, where despite the lack of a permit, tens of thousand of people crowded together, as police were forced to let them stream in.

New York City authorities were forced to retreat, but they, of course, haven't become sudden sympathizers of the Occupy movement. They'll be looking for a chance to confront Occupy activists in the future.

The opposition of city officials was made clear on October 15 in Chicago, where Barack Obama's former right-hand man, Rahm Emanuel, is mayor. After a march that brought out thousands of Chicagoans on a Saturday night, activists from Occupy Chicago moved their encampment from a cramped sidewalk near the Federal Reserve Bank to a small section of Grant Park downtown. In the early morning hours, police arrested more than 200 protesters and cleared the area.

Activists are meeting to decide what comes next. But if Chicagoans need any example to know that police crackdowns can't stop this movement, they can look to Boston.

There, activists endured a brutal police attack when they extended their encampment--with police in riot gear smashing through a line of military veterans, stomping on their flags, and arresting around 100 people. But the next day, Occupy Boston's General Assembly was bigger than ever, with hundreds of people participating in the discussion about how to regroup and expand the struggle.

In cities across the U.S., large and small, occupiers are strategizing about how to get the message out--and how to increase our numbers so that we have the kind of strength that local officials and the police will think twice about before pushing them around.

The lesson of the growing movement in New York--and now around the world--is that solidarity is key. The tentacles of corporate greed reach around the globe. But the October 15 protests show how workers' solidarity can reach across borders, too. The struggle of the "99 percent" is international--and it's time to take it to a new level.

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