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Remembering Occupy Wall Street

Settembre 2013
Il movimento Occupy Wall Street nacque due anni fa, quasi per caso. A New York, Zuccotti Park diventò il simbolo di una rivoluzione che si diffuse in tutto il mondo. Poi il parco fu sgomberato dalla polizia e Occupy iniziò a declinare.  È stata una sconfitta o solo una battuta d’arresto?

di Marina CarminatI

File audio:

Members of the Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011.
Members of the Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011.
Linnea Palmer
Linnea Palmer

The Occupy Wall Street movement began two years ago, on September 17th, 2011. Its members described it as a “peaceful protest” against the abuses of financial capitalism in general and Wall Street in particular. They considered the New York Stock Exchange the centre of world finance, and they held it responsible for the social inequality that had become more marked during the economic crisis. As activist Linnea Palmer explains in the accompanying interview, the original plan was to occupy Chase Plaza but, when they discovered that this was closed, they turned their attention to Zuccotti Park, which became the focus of the movement. The protest began in New York City, but soon spread to 70 other cities in the United States, and then to Canada, Australia, Great Britain and Italy.

PLEASE LEAVE QUIETLY!

Supporters of Occupy Wall Street lived in tents in Zuccotti Park until November 15th, when the NYPD evicted them. The official reason was to clean the park, but the removal of the protesters effectively marked the end of the movement. Since then it has become weaker and has fragmented into many smaller groups. On “Occupy May Day” 2012 only a few hundred demonstrators turned up: this year there were just 11 people! Yet activists say that Occupy Wall Street is still alive and well. According to Cathy O’Neil of Occupy’s alternative banking working group, “We know that the capitalist system is going to fail. We don’t want this to happen, but it will happen. And we want to be there when it happens with developed solutions.” In the meantime, O’Neil believes that a dose of optimism helps: “You have to enjoy the victories and ignore the defeats.”

INTERVIEW

ON THE STREETS

LANGUAGE LEVEL C1 (ADVANCED)

Speaker: Chuck Rolando (Standard American accent)

This month marks the second anniversary of the start of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement. In order to find out what has happened to it since then, we asked activist Linnea Palmer. She began by explaining the events of two years ago:

Linnea Palmer (Standard American accent)

Occupy Wall Street started when a magazine called Adbusters put out a picture – it was a poster – and it said, “Occupy Wall Street September 17th,”  and there was a picture of the ballerina on top of the charging bull sculpture, which often represents capitalism in Wall Street. And so what happened is people started organising, there were some people who were already activists in New York City, and they started talking to each other, saying, you know, “Let’s do something on September 17th,” in response to this call from Adbusters. And they had a couple of meetings beforehand and in those meetings they decided to call themselves “the 99 percent” and they also decided to have a democratic, consensus-based, decision-making model. And then on the first day they were planning to go to Chase Plaza, which is right in the downtown financial district, but Chase Plaza was closed! So they went to their second location, which was Zuccotti Park, which we like to call “Liberty Square,” and they found out that it was open 24 hours, and they decided to stay.

WHO’S TO BLAME?

So what was the movement’s basic philosophy?

Linnea Palmer

It’s really more of an idea than an organisation, and part of why it spread so quickly, there were over 1500 occupations around the world by the end of December 2011, and I think everyone understood that the root of so many of the problems we face today, whether it’s the housing crisis and people losing their homes, or it’s people being forced into student debt, or it’s our environmental problems, all of it leads back to the way that Wall Street is exploiting workers and exploiting people, and taking it all for themselves.

STRIKE DEBT!

So, two years on, what has the movement achieved?   

Linnea Palmer

Part of what was so powerful about Occupy Wall Street and still is, is that you had people who before were in different issues, are now connecting and working together, and we’re already starting to see some really significant things come out of this. One of them is a group called Strike Debt, and they are working to get people to think very critically about whether or not our debt is legitimate, and they’re saying it’s not. For example, the banks got a bailout, they got to say “Our debts don’t matter, you know, we can just write them off!” Well, if the banks can do that, why can’t the people? Especially when the people are paying for basic for necessities like healthcare, housing, education. We shouldn’t have to go into debt in order to meet those basic needs. And one of the things that they’re doing to get people to think about this, is they’re actually buying people’s debt and cancelling it, like just completely erasing it, and that initiative is called the Rolling Jubilee.

OH, OBAMA!

And she thinks that all this is thanks to the protests of two years ago:

Linnea Palmer

And that’s something that wouldn’t... I don’t think would have gotten started, if you hadn’t had Occupy Wall Street create the space for people to come and connect and realise how our issues are related. That said, we still do have people like the alternative banking group of Occupy Wall Street, who is calling for some of the bankers to be held accountable. The Obama administration has not prosecuted a single banker, none! You know, the investigations have really gotten nowhere or been forgotten, and even though these bankers stole millions of dollars from the people, there’s been no investigation. So there are definitely people still working on Justice for Wall Street. At the same time that we’re working on like resisting that and protesting that, we’re also working on creating new solutions. So people are starting their own worker cooperatives, people are calling for an end to use of fossil fuels, and working on sustainable solutions. There’s a group called Free University, which is putting on a free university, and professors are coming to teach classes for free to anyone who wants them. So what I really like about Occupy Wall Street is that it’s both protesting and also creating the world we want to see. 


TIMELINE

September 2008: the financial crisis begins (during the last months of George W. Bush’s Presidency).

October 2008: The Emergency Stabilization Act (bailout) is passed.

November 2008: Democrat Barack Obama beats Republican John McCain.

December 2010: the Arab Spring protest movement begins.

September 17th, 2011. Occupy Wall Street protesters take over Zuccotti Park. They are evicted by the police on November 15th.


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Explains

Adbusters. La rivista canadese Adbusters è contro la pubblicità e il suo titolo è un omaggio al famoso film del 1984, Ghostbusters (Acchiappafantasmi).

Whether it’s the housing crisis, or.
Sia per la crisi immobiliare sia... La parola whether (la cui pronuncia è uguale a quella di weather, tempo) significa letteralmente “se” (ad esempio: I don’t know whether you like ice cream, “non so se ti piace il gelato”) ma si può usare anche nel senso di sia, cioè quando si elenca una serie di possibilità, come nel nostro esempio.

Write them off.
Cancellarli. Si usa il phrasal verb to write off per dire cancellare, soprattutto quando si parla di un debito. Ma si usa il sostantivo write off anche per indicare un’automobile distrutta in un incidente che non si può salvare. Si usa anche nel senso figurato.