For weeks, Occupy Wall Street (OWS) has consistently expanded with the “99%” to cities across the country; yet, somehow, it’s still criticized for consisting of disorganized, incoherent, bongo-playing hippies. Nonetheless, the movement has begun here in Wilmington—and, yes, looking around the first General Assembly earlier this month, there were a couple of bare feet and dreadlocks present. But they weren’t alone.
Attending the first Occupy Wilmington General Assembly was like attending a large family reunion, running into people one would never imagine being related to. All ages, races and socio-economic backgrounds came with open ears and minds. Those who consider themselves the 99% are related by their frustrations and need for change in what’s considered a broken economy at the hands of the corruption of a few. Yet, the vast majority have paid—and still pay—the consequences.
Since the first meeting at Greenfield Lake, it was clear there wouldn’t be a single or a few designated leaders or representatives of OWS, but everyone would and should exercise their leadership abilities. In the absence of an electronic microphone, people took turns sharing why they came and what they expected by speaking with the “human microphone,” which involves audiences repeating what is said in order for everyone to hear the person at the helm. Some were comfortable listening and showing their opinions via established hand gestures used by other Occupy groups for communicating opinions, such as raising hands to agree with someone, lowering them to disagree, crossing arms to block a proposal and so on.
Most mainstream and local media have questioned the group’s intentions and purpose—or lack thereof. So, to clarify its purpose here and now, OWS is working to change economic and political inequalities, and restore democracy to the United States, which has been adopted by both the Wilmington and UNCW groups.
Next question: How?
As suggested by some OWS members, there should be a push on government to reinstate regulations on corporations and financial institutions, such as the Glass-Steagall Act, which has a particularly interesting origin (according to history and PBS). After the stock market crash of 1929 many, including politicians, blamed market speculation engagement by banks during the 1920s—investors were seriously hurt by overriding interest, which promoted stocks and benefits to banks rather than individuals.
The Glass-Steagall Act passed after it garnered support for stronger regulations when bank officials were forced to answer for their roles in the market crash. Followed by the Bank Holding Company Act in 1956, restrictions on banks were extended to include “bank holding companies owning two or more banks cannot engage in non-banking activities.”
However, after 25 years of financial companies lobbying (a $300 million endeavor) and weakening of regulations, Congress repealed Glass-Steagall in 1999. Interestingly enough, just days after the decision of the administration—which included the Treasury Department—Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, the former co-chairman of Goldman Sachs, accepted a top job at Citigroup as a chief lieutenant.
The current and probably most well-known target, Bank of America, falls within reason of protest, Wilmingtonian Ron Shakelford says. “It isn’t the time to increase fees or increase [anything] on the working class.” The new Bank of America monthly fee for debit card use spawned a lot of OWS. When most already live paycheck to paycheck, $5 is a lot to pay to a bank that has already been bailed out, has not paid taxes, and has endured one of the largest lay-offs in recent years. The reasoning for the charge, as quoted by its CEO, Brian Moynihan, on “Larry King,” “We have a right to make a profit.”
That’s why a lot of people probably saw the 99% protestors outside of the downtown BoA last Saturday. Though the bank wasn’t open, nor its neighbor Wells Fargo, the men, women and children lined both sides of the streets with signs, chants and yes, bongos. Plenty of passers-by honked in support of the peaceful protest, others moved on without much of a glance, and others simply don’t agree—as in nature.
Regardless, the movement resonates with people like Shakelford because his pension has taken a huge hit due to circumstances out of his control. “I’m a firm believer in free market,” he asserts, “[but] politics are being run by money now, and individuals/citizen groups can’t compete with big corporations and business.”
When asked, most Occupy protestors like Shakelford don’t attempt to explain or take authority on everything going wrong in the American economy; it can’t be wrapped in a neat sentence, nor can an automatic solution arise to fix it. However, one thing is for certain: For the people who have taken to the streets in protest, “People either rise up and demand change, or it doesn’t happen,” Shakelford says.