Occupy Wall Street: Grievances without violence

Protesters in Zuccotti Park on 10 October 2011 The Occupy New York base at Zuccotti Park has more and more protesters sleeping in every night

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There is something endearing about a protester who camps out on Wall Street carrying a sign that reads "I love humanity, let's figure this s**t out together".

OK, he wasn't quite as discreet with the swear word, but my editors will frown if I replace the asterisks with the actual letters.

But seriously, how angry can you really sound if you begin your revolutionary bank-bashing with the words love and humanity? It is somehow so very un-European.

It's hard to imagine, for example, the hooded youths of the London riots pausing between rock throwing and shop-looting to utter poetic affection for their fellow human beings.

Their priority was Sony or Samsung (stolen plasma TVs that is), not sitting down with their political opponents to figure out the country's economic problems.

Nor do these Occupiers of Wall Street yet have the fury of the tens of thousands who turned out in Athens again last week to protest government cuts.

Those youths smashed paving stones and hurled rocks. They were met in return with police firing tear gas.

Teachers, air traffic controllers and even jail wardens all joined the general strike against the government's austerity measures.

Unemployment in Greece has hit a depressing 16% since the cuts began, so perhaps it's not surprising that violence has struck the capital. And remember, last year, three bank workers died during Greek protests.

Growing inequality

Even the schoolchildren who turned out in Spain were more numerous than their American counterparts.

Protest march through Manhattan's financial district, 12 October 2011 New York sees a new protest march each day

Some 85% of students in the capital Madrid boycotted classes last Thursday as part of a nationwide protest against the government's cuts to the education budget.

"Less vultures, more desks" read one slogan. Youth unemployment in Spain is running at 40%, so it's not surprising that students are somewhat less than happy.

No, the most extraordinary thing about the US protests so far is that they have been so mild.

It took Americans a long time to jump on the European protest wagon and now they've finally done so, it's with exemplary order and calm. Given how rough the American economy is, that's quite surprising.

We all know people who can't find a job, who are struggling to pay bills, who pass through the Safeway checkout fearful that food prices have risen again since last week's grocery shop.

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It's interesting that - barring the one incident of pepper spray used against demonstrators on Brooklyn Bridge - the nice people camping out in Zuccotti Park have been well, so nice”

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And we see the numbers about growing inequality in America.

In these times of job cuts and extreme hardship, the fact that the wealthiest 1% of the country took 8% of the GDP three decades ago, but now gobble up 25% of the total economic pie might be enough to make some people reach for their molotovs.

So it's interesting that - barring the one incident of pepper spray used against demonstrators on Brooklyn Bridge - the nice people camping out in Zuccotti Park have been well, so nice.

And it's not that Americans can't riot - they've done so with force in the past. Remember Vietnam, LA, the race riots in Detroit?

But those were in the 1960s. In recent decades protests in the US seem to have become more peaceful, even more subdued.

That other political protest movement of recent times, the Tea Party, might get fired up by their deeply held convictions, but they certainly don't riot.

The same quality of civic duty and lawfulness that foreigners find so distinctive about American life in general has dictated the mood of the economic protests as well.

Occupy Wall Street shares the same concerns as the Anger of the Acropolis, but so far, not the deadly stone throwing.

Katty Kay Article written by Katty Kay Katty Kay Presenter, BBC World News

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  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    I hope these protests do remain peaceful as this is a country where everyone has the right to carry a gun. I can certainly recall riots in the US, Rodney King for example, and I wasn't born in the 1960's.

    9% unemployment, 15% living in poverty. The only difference between the US economy and Greece's is the US debt is owned by China, not other bankrupt European economies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    It's not that we Americans are more peaceful then Europeans - it's that ever since we were little we were told to obey and to never disrespect "the law". We fear our government - we fear our police - we fear anything with power. That's just my two cents.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Also, the tea party movement was OLD people--these are the young adults--under 30--50 % of them

    "Don't trust anyone over 30" (50 yr old slogan)

    Remember When and What..or else you'll reap what you ...


  • rate this

    Comment number 15.


    Mr Jack, I majored in Economics on the macro side--where in the 80s socialist economics were derided.

    20 yrs later we have keynesian econ as the basis of the last 20 yrs (except for clinton) Now don't YOU think intellectually these protestors are onto something--balanced budgets

    with taxes. Where your "intellect" only says its idealogically unintelligent

    How persuasive


  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Of course I fear my government. This is the whole premise of our nation, to fear a large, powerful federal government and to protect the power of the individual states. We have failed in guarding this autonomy and are subject to the decisions of the federal government instead of the will of the individual states. Americans who blindly trust this massive corporate entity are naive at best.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Dear Jack Blair. The first Amendment to the constitution of the United States expressly prohibits Congress from "abridging the freedom of speech; or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
    Do the european nations have the same rights and freedoms?

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    I joined Occupy Iowa City, a offshoot of OWS in solidarity, and its very peaceful. We just want to be heard. We camp in the park and the whole lot, but we're not all young college kids needing an excuse to protest. There's all sorts of people out there, all ages. We need changes. The whole angle that we're a revolution ready to boil over is ludicrous. The media's been trying to incite fraction.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    There’s a strategy to social movements in the US, you have to convince the mainstream first via nonviolence. If the protesters were to begin breaking windows, vandalizing property, or attacking cops, the entire Occupy movement would be instantly ruined. The media and cops are waiting for an attack, even trying to incite them. And if it happens they will cover it and then discredit the movement.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Who are you, Jon Dolton? What facts do you have to back up your claim that we fear our government?

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    I am curious about one part of this article: "So it's interesting that - barring the one incident of pepper spray used against demonstrators on Brooklyn Bridge - the nice people camping out in Zuccotti Park have been well, so nice." This worries me, as, being a US citizen, I have seen a concerning amount of violence against the protesters. Is this news not reaching other countries?

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    One thing the #Occupy "movement" has in common with the disturbances in Europe: Grievances Without Intellect.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    I support the Occupy Wall Street Protest. Wall Street deserves to have shame heaped upon it. We should all say shame upon them and upon all those who enable rapacious financial corporations to continue to operate ineffectively regulated and virtually immune because they are "too big to fail." Legal technicalities be damned. Moral wrong has gone uncorrected. Rename it Shame Street or Greed Avenue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Well, I hope things stay peaceful, but with the current economic forecasts and heated political rhetoric, it will be interesting. As for the "Occupy.." folks, I don't think their demonstrations attract the same anarchist element as the anti-WTO protests... All this being equal, I could certainly envision some violence in America's streets if the government doesn't start doing something.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    People are not given enough motive to retaliate violently - the ramifications are too extreme. As Ethan Farber points out, fear is one of the main components keeping these American citizens from doing anything that will come back to harm themselves.

    Americans fear their government. But, as V states in "V for Vendetta", people should not fear the government, a government should fear the people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Few people are willing to notice it, but a significant portion of the people I have met at my local version of OWS protest are the same people who I met at local Tea Party rallies a few years back. And guess what- they are saying the same thing now as they were saying then. However, it is amazing how differently the media portrays them. Perhaps they just learned being angry doesn't work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    It is the calm before the storm.

    Many people are still getting by on:
    1) credit
    2) aging parents
    3) benefits
    4) odd jobs

    American police are much more militarized and violent than EU police and arrest in America is a life stigma. Fear is a major factor.

    When credit dries up, when the older generation dies off or when people feel they have nothing to lose, all hell will break loose.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    What a different analysis from that being put forth by the foaming at the mouth profiteering from discord talk show hosts of the right. They present the OWS folks as the barbarians at the gate and raise their journalistic game no end when the first question they seem to as their "reporters" such as they may be about the smell in the park. Thank you for your perspective,sanity,& even handedness

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    A non-violent social movement has its own attraction for all walks of life in a society. It is a good thing.


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