Nov. 8, 20121
CONTACT: K.E. Schwab
SRU faculty discuss ‘Occupy Wall Street’s’ impact
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. – The Occupy Wall Street movement in New York and other cities across the U.S., including nearby Pittsburgh and Youngstown, Ohio, is being seen by many as the ultimate Kumbaya moment encompassing all ideas from all people. Slippery Rock University faculty who have been following the movement are drawing their own conclusions.
The protests, which began Sept. 17, are mainly focused on social and economic inequality, corporate greed, corruption and influence over government primarily from the financial services sector and lobbyists, according to a Wikipedia entry outlining the movement.
The round-the-clock rallies, often with continuous drum beats, have spread across the U.S., drawing thousands of participants. Some looting and police arrests have occurred, followed by calls for investigations of alleged police brutality.
The major Occupy Pittsburgh event drew an estimated 2,000 participants; the Youngstown group has held a steady 24-hour-a-day vigil with less than a handful of protesters and had planned to disband following last Tuesday’s elections. However, late-breaking reports say the protesters may continue. Talks with local police are under way.
The movement’s slogan “We are the 99%,” is a reference to the difference in wealth and income growth in the U.S. between the wealthiest 1 percent of the population and the everyone else. Many of the protesters have said they think such wealth control in the hands of a few is unfair – and unhealthy for the overall U.S. economy.
Heather Frederick, assistant professor of political science at SRU since 2005 and a two-time marcher on Washington, D.C., said, “The movement will ultimately fizzle if they don’t get some organization and some clear goals.”
Frederick marched on the U.S. Capitol in support of gay rights and women’s choice issues.
“Unfortunately, there is not the kind of organization needed for such a protest to succeed. There is no clearly defined leadership. I think it is a shame we have forgotten how to protest in this country,” she said. “We have not had an organized protest since the Vietnam War. They just don’t know how to do it.”
Frederick, who supports the movement, said, “I love what they are doing. I am for any kind of protest. It is a constitutional right to redress claims against the government and they are exercising that right. Anyone who has a problem with the government’s actions should make their voices heard.”
“However, they don’t seem to have a theme, other than to protest…other than to Occupy fill in the blank with whatever city,” she said.
“I would like to see more action in their action. Support candidates that agree with their goals or get a litigation strategy to redress the wrongs, something like that. Some state attorneys general are suing the banking industry for the problems, and I think that is a huge step in the right direction,” Frederick said.
“I think a lot of the protesters are upset by the current economy and just don’t have a job. They aren’t thinking of constructive ways to solve those problems,” she said.
“I know a lot of people, especially recent college graduates who can’t find a job. It is not that they are not willing to take a job they think is beneath them or that they are overqualified for, but recent graduates who are looking for jobs that are appropriate for their education and skill set just can’t find a job. In some cases PhDs with 30 years experience are also applying making the process even harder,” Frederick said.
Some suggest they should look for entry-level jobs, but Frederick said, “Some people think they should take a job at McDonalds, but a lot of people can’t live on a minimum wage job and pay for daycare. It is really frustrating.”
Some involved in the movement have taken a specific stance against having a centralized organization in favor or an open democracy with everyone voting on nearly every issue, to which Frederick said, “That is a lovely democracy, but it is not the best strategy. They need someone who knows the goals. Some people don’t have any idea why they are out there. The movement will need leadership to succeed and if they get leadership and some organization, they can begin some strategic planning to go along with their protests.”
Bruce Orvis, associate professor in SRU’s School of Business, said, “All I know is what I read. There seems to be something there because it keeps growing. My impression is that it is all over the board in terms of topics. It is hard to determining what the individual, fundamental objective of the movement is in terms of it purpose for staging the protest. It certainly speaks to the feeling of dissatisfaction and unrest in a certain segment of the population, which doesn’t have any other outlet for their frustration, so they are using this protest as their forum.”
Orvis said he expects the “Occupy” movement will have an effect on business, if it continues.
“Initially it was not given much attention from a business standpoint, but as long as it has been around and being able to now sustain itself, I think certain businesses will have to pay some credence to it, or at least continue to monitor what is happening,” he said.
Orvis, a member of the SRU School of Business faculty since 1995, said the current protest is unlike others that have gained public support.
“From my perspective, past protests that I remember such as ‘Get Out of Afghanistan,’ or ‘Get Out of Vietnam’ seem to have a central focus. My impression is that this is not as galvanizing in terms of drawing interest or support. It is not something that unites everyone. There is a cross-section of things the protesters are frustrated about.”
Jennifer Sanftner, professor of psychology at SRU since 2001, said, “My sense is one of the things they are protesting is government influence in the economy; the lobbyists and how much that affects our lives. It affects legislation and laws that are made and it, in reality, affects everything we do as citizens.”
“As an example, the FDA [Federal Drug Administration] is so controlled by lobbyists that medications are released that aren’t safe, and food safety takes a backseat to corporate interests,” she said.
“I think that people honestly, the protesters themselves, are looking at the economic picture and how Wall Street kind of sees to it that laws are made to protect the large corporations. The protesters believe the government protects large corporations and that the laws are set up to do just that…the little guy, the young person demonstrating, believes they don’t have a chance, because the corporations are so powerful and money-grubbing,” she said.
“They believe they don’t have a chance to make it, in part, because of the high rates of unemployment, because of the financial system that we have and because of the corporate interests that are so strong in government,” she said.
“I think they are hoping to get somebody’s attention in a position of leadership. We have a history of grass-roots movements in the U.S. leading to profound changes in our culture; just look at the civil rights movement, protests against the Vietnam War. There is a sense out there of something to have your voice be heard. It feels good to have your voice heard. You can call the corporations or your senators and congresspersons, but people feel like they just don't care. On the other hand, If you take to the street, you may be able to have an impact,” Sanftner said.
She also sees social media as playing a major role.
“Social media could be involved in such protests. There was recently a young woman who found Bank of America was to begin charging a fee on her debit card. She created a video on YouTube telling people to move their accounts from Bank of America to protest the fee. Thousands of people did, and Bank of America reversed it policy. Sometimes small people, an everyday person, can have an impact. It takes lots of momentum and lots of desire,” Sanftner said.
“Protesters are feeling a lot of frustration. Some aim that frustration at government for spending too much; some at corporations that they think are too powerful. Overall, people are fed up and want change. They don’t know what else to do, so they do what they can. They are doing this in the hope that something bigger will come from it,” she said.
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