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Occupy Wall Street: Social and Economic Inequality

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Income inequality in the United States has increased in recent years. Many people were concerned about the fact that some people’s income is incredibly large, while others are so small that they can hardly pay for basic things. It led to many protest movements against social and economic inequality. The U.S. is one of the richest countries in the world, but our society still has millions of people that are struggling to afford basic things for a living.

After the crisis in 2008, many people felt that the government cares much more about the protection of rich people and big corporations than about regular citizens. The protests began a while after the beginning of the crisis. In 2010 as the crisis spread to Greece, Spain, Portugal, and other parts of the Eurozone. In each of these countries, the occupation of prominent public spaces was a central dimension of activism. Syntagma Square and Plaza del Sol quickly became globally familiar names; images of rallies proliferated. Usually, protesters were national citizens angry at austerity imposed not only by their governments but also by global markets, the EU, and in particular its most powerful member, Germany. They were united by a sense of indignation – both in the sense that they were indignantly angry and in the sense that they were being treated with little of the dignity owed to citizens. Craig Calhoun argues that protest in Europe was connected to protests in the Arab world. He writes “This linked the protests in European cities to those in the Arab world. In Cairo’s Tahrir Square most famously, but also in Tunisia, Libya, Algeria, Bahrain, and elsewhere in Egypt people took to the streets and especially public spaces to complain of the indignities they suffered in daily life as well as lack of jobs and opportunities, elites who seemed more concerned about international business partners than the welfare of their compatriots, police brutality, and simple dictatorship. From the end of 2010, images of Arabs gathering to demand the chance to participate in their societies fully and with dignity spread globally, sparking protests as far afield as China, and mixing with European examples to influence the beginning of OWS.” The protests wave reached the United States. Citizens of the United States were also hit hard by the crisis in 2008. They were outraged by the government policies that led to economic collapse, as well as the subsequent government aid policies that were aimed primarily at helping large corporations, not people. It leads to many protest movements against economic policy and fights with inequality. One of the largest protests against the economic policy was Occupy Wall Street.

The Occupy Wall Street movement started in September 2011 and ended in February 2012. Protest supporters have led many demonstrations and discussions about economic policy. But the question is whether they had a real effect on society? In “Occupy Wall Street in perspective” Craig Calhoun writes, “The Occupy Wall Street mobilization may have been temporary but not without enduring effect. Its most important impact may lie in a culture, not movement organization. It may lie in readiness to look seriously and critically at inequality and at the question of whether actual democratic institutions are really working.”

The Occupy Wall Street movement raised important questions and has been trying to solve problems that have existed for too long. Poverty is not only a problem for poor people, but a problem for everyone in the U.S, and in order to tackle the problem of economic inequality, it is imperative for us to keep this issue up and to keep looking for a solution.

The Occupy Wall Street movement began in Zuccotti Park, in New York City’s in September 2011. The main reasons for Occupy Wall Street were people’s resentment on how the government implements economic policy and the high level of economic inequality in American society. Menasce Juliana writes, “The share of American adults who live in middle-income households has decreased from 61% in 1971 to 51% in 2019. This downsizing has proceeded slowly but surely since 1971, with each decade thereafter typically ending with a smaller share of adults living in middle-income households than at the beginning of the decade.” The problem of economic inequality has existed for many decades; however, the government does not take sufficient measures to stop the process of social stratification. As a result, we can see how people with middle and low incomes gradually become poorer, while people with initially high incomes become richer. But the greatest protesters’ dissatisfaction with the government policy oriented on the protection of 1% of the wealthiest citizens at the expense of all other citizens. Because of it the main slogan of Occupy Wall Street was “We are 99 percent.” This slogan explained the position of the supporters of the occupation, pointing to an undeniable class gap in American society. The 1% of the wealthiest citizens of the U.S. not only have the most money but also have the highest annual income growth rates of any other class. Supporters of the occupation argue that raising interest rates on profits for the 1% of the wealthiest citizens is one of the simplest and most understandable ways to reduce economic inequality in society. They are proposing a rate hike of up to 80%. OWS critics argue that such a policy can be dangerous and lead to the fact that the rich will transfer money to countries with lower interest rates.

Economic inequality is an extremely complex issue, and people have vastly different opinions about how exactly the poverty problem should be solved. People’s disunity and adherence to different approaches always were big problems for the large protest movement. OWS was able to partially solve this problem by following a specific strategy. The protest movement refused to nominate any protest leaders. In fact, the protest was driven by the people participating in it through public meetings and endless discussions. Such kind of system of organization calls “horizontal movement”. Usually, such a system is characterized by a loosely knit organizational network, a decentralized structure, and an anti-hierarchical stance. It had a few advantages over more traditional protest structures. For example, such kind of system helped to hear more different social groups independently of race, ethnicity, sex, sexual introduction. This helped to hear a wide variety of opinions that otherwise would not have been present, and find the best solutions that satisfy the largest number of protesters. 

The protesters also actively use social networks such as Twitter and Facebook for information dissemination, protest promotion, communication, planning, and coding actions. The greatest activity of the protest movement was on social networks. People shared information with each other and discussed issues in society, supporting or criticizing OWS. Dean Jodi in “Occupy Wall Street: Forcing Division” argues that criticism of the protest is very important and is a contribution to it. He writes, “The looping gesture of reflexivity– turning back in and criticizing the process, one’s implication in the process, the language or gesture of questioning the process –is put to work in digital networks insofar as we create the internet we use.” This strategy helped the OWS to unite a large number of people of different views and become one of the largest actions against economic inequality. Nevertheless, this approach of protest organization created many problems. The movement was very cumbersome and difficult to regroup. Also, due to the absence of a leader, it was difficult to put forward a specific political program or plan of action. Critics of the protest movement often reproached him for being superficial and lacking a clear policy. Mendel Ronald wrote, “OWS, as exemplified by its discourse, provided a moral critique of political institutions, the economy and society. The way it portrayed the issues, the use of emotive language and more specifically the ‘call to arms’ exhibited a populist orientation. Occupy’s self-identification as the ‘99 percent against the One percent’ symbolizes this populist persuasion in its rawest terms”. While many supporters admitted that the movement did not have a clear policy, nevertheless, one of the main goals of the protest was to involve the largest number of people in discussing the problems of modern economic policies and the interaction of the government and large corporations.

Throughout the protest, protesters occupied Wall Street. They were placing their tents there and refusing to leave. Wall Street is a symbol of the power of large corporations, and this is the reason why the protesters chose this location. Every day, people from one percent of the wealthiest citizens of the United States saw protesters on the street along the way in their offices. With many protesters living in tents on Wall Street for months without full access to a shower, the issue of unsanitary conditions arose. This was actively used by opponents of the occupation, describing the protesters as dirty bums who just don’t want to work and think that everyone owes them everything. In the midst of his campaign for the 2012 Republican Presidential nomination, Newt Gingrich was asked what he thought of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement. His view, he said, was “simple”: “Go get a job right after you take a bath”. Gingrich contended that the Occupiers “start with the preface that we all owe them everything. “They take over a public park they didn’t pay for” and “go to bathrooms they didn’t pay for”. The two parts of his riposte “get a job” and “take a bath” entirety up well the two primary discursive procedures utilized to discredit OWS’s occupation of Zuccotti Stop. Gingrich speaks about people who cannot or do not agree to participate in the modern US economic system as about “unclean”. Many opponents of the occupation used this argument and argued that the protesters should be removed from the park by force because their unsanitary conditions pose a danger to the people around them. Bolton, Matthew writes that writes that despite the fact that the protesters were really dirty due to the lack of souls, in reality, they were more likely to be a cleansing force for the whole society. They raised important questions and made people think about whether those who cannot effectively participate in the economic system are just dirt and unnecessary parts of this society or they are people deserving that their problems be considered and resolved.

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Occupy Wall Street: Social and Economic Inequality. (2022, May 24). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 27, 2022, from
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Occupy Wall Street: Social and Economic Inequality. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 27 Jun. 2022].
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