Vail Valley Voices: The rise of the Occupy movement |

Vail Valley Voices: The rise of the Occupy movement

Matthew Kennedy
Vail, CO, Colorado

The Great Recession has strained the country and the world.

It has impacted most people financially and emotionally, and/or they have family and friends who are affected. The hard times have spurred many people to start openly voicing their frustration with the status quo — and en mass.

Welcome to the “Occupy” movement.

What is the Occupy movement, precisely? What are its roots? Who are its participants? And how widespread is it?

The movement consists of active protesters and online participants. The protesters are mainly people directly impacted by the Great Recession. Many are college students, under-employed, long-term unemployed, low income and individuals just tired of politics as usual.

The movement also includes a small minority of anarchists and troublemakers who see it as an opportunity to incite chaos — individuals uninterested in the main participants’ concerns yet are causing problems for the majority of the movement’s participants and its potential effectiveness.

The other Occupy group consists of online participants. I am unaware of the “Occupy” movement’s online presence aside from several groups (I would not be surprised if the “Occupy” movement didn’t exist on Facebook and other social media outlets.)

What percentage of the online participants is involved in the actual protests is unknown. I suspect a degree of crossover exists.

One common sentiment, regardless of protesters or online participants, is that a majority “Occupy” members demand a genuine change in the country’s economic and political environment.

The movement’s origins are traceable to December 2007, when the nation’s worst economic crisis since the Great Depression began. The period’s characteristics are serving as Occupy’s catalyst.

The Great Recession’s most notable trait is a high unemployment rate. It now is officially 9.0 percent, yet is unofficially closer to 16 percent-17 percent. The unofficial rate encompasses individuals who have stopped seeking work after spending one, two or more years seeking employment. And there are the under-employed, as well, who are unable to find the jobs they seek.

There’s strong sentiment among many recent college graduates – with bachelor’s, master’s and higher degrees — that their education is meaningless, especially since they are unable to find work within their field. What is additionally frustrating for the same group is that many have taken out student loans — and are unable to make payments because of the economic climate.

Another characteristic of these economic times relates to the profits of many multinational corporations. Several of the country’s largest private institutions are reporting historical earnings. These entities include Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, and Cisco Systems. Their profits might not be an issue if they weren’t laying off employees and were hiring instead.

The Great Recession’s final characteristic pertains to the nation’s political climate. The view outside the Beltway is that neither Democrats nor Republicans are willing to make the necessary concessions needed to address the nation’s economic issues. The belief is neither parties’ members have the audacity to pursue tough decisions that might jeopardize their re-election efforts.

Here, the Republicans are viewed less favorably than their Democratic counterparts. The GOP is blamed since they are continuously blocking the president’s efforts to address the unemployment rate.

The view is the Republicans are stymieing the administration’s efforts as a means of hindering the president’s re-election efforts — and compelling voters to return the GOP to the White House.

Are these perceptions correct, or is there more substance to those issues? It’s a high probability there is. And yet most individuals struggling during the Great Recession lack the time to confirm or refute the above issues.

These viewpoints are widespread and deep. They are so vast that many disgruntled individuals are starting to vent publicly and via large groups — specifically the splintered Occupy movement.

It started as Occupy Wall Street. it has since morphed into various Occupy groups across the country and the world. There are now Occupy movements in larger cities, such as Atlanta, Tampa, Los Angeles, Oakland, Denver, and Nashville. It also exists in smaller communities, such as Flagstaff, Ariz., and has a strong international appeal. Occupy movements have arisen in London, Rome, Madrid and parts of Asia, including Hong Kong, Sydney, the Philippines, Taiwan and South Korea.

The Occupy movement is a cross section of many of the Great Recession’s victims, yet on a global scale.

Some questions: What specific issues are they interested in? Will the movement remain a group of protesters exercising their First Amendment Rights who will ultimately fizzle into history’s ashbin, or will it morph into an organization that changes the American (perhaps global) political landscape? How can it achieve that?

These issues will be discussed in the next column on the Occupy movement.

Matthew Kennedy has a master’s degree in diplomatic studies from the University of Westminster in London. He’s lived in Europe, Asia and Russia. Comments or questions can be directed to

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