The fledgling ‘Occupy Wall St’ movement looks set to spawn a local chapter as grassroots protesters prepare to occupy key capital city landmarks to strike back against “corporate greed”.
Occupations will kick off in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide on October 15, with organisers hoping to ape the success of the protests that have commandeered Liberty Plaza in Downtown Manhattan and are rapidly metastasising across the US.
A Facebook event page for the Melbourne arm, created by former Greens candidate Nick Carson, boasted 649 attendees as Crikey‘s deadline approached this morning. An organising meeting was attended by about 30 people on Sunday, with minutes revealing that the nascent grouping “was not so much ‘anti-capitalism’ but [about] the fact that capitalism has gone wrong.”
One idea floated was that instead of being “‘anti-‘ anything”, the group would be “pro-freedom/pro-humanity'” to keep “negativity away from the movement.”
In Melbourne, protesters plan to camp out in Swanston Street’s City Square indefinitely in solidarity with their US colleagues. On Sunday, New York police arrested 700 occupiers when they attempted to block traffic on Brooklyn Bridge. Celebrities including Susan Sarandon, Salman Rushdie and filmmaker Michael Moore have previously lent their support.
Hundreds of New York students and activists, many battle hardened after 2009’s New School occupation, were inspired to join the ruckus after Arab Spring uprisings across the Middle East. The fluid agglomeration claims to broadly represent the “99%” of the world’s population shafted by the global institutional infatuation with monetarist economics. Yesterday, they celebrated “zombie day”.
Melbourne occupation co-organiser Alex Gard, a seafarer, told Crikey this morning that the Australian arm had “no direct ties to anyone.”
“There’s such a huge range of people from all sides of the fence,” he said.
Gard said was personally drawn to the movement after reading reports on the US upsurge.
“I think it was fantastic that it spread virally. There was also the peaceful nature of it…we’re not going in there and just rioting. We’re inspiring solidarity by bringing together common people on a global scale.”
The US protests, which have stretched to the Mid-West and are rapidly gaining ground in California, are widely perceived as a reaction to a failed Congress and growing disillusionment over jobs in an economy teetering at the edge of a recession. The movement preaches non-violent civil disobedience in the mould of 60s radicals Students for a Democratic Society whose Port Huron statement remains a popular touchstone.
Gard said that while conditions were better in Australia, there was still a pressing need to take action.
“Things are definitely better for us over here…but in saying that there is large number of people that are living below the poverty line or are in some sort of oppressive environment. Just because things are better here doesn’t mean that it’s going to stay this way forever,” he said.
While official endorsements are thin on the ground, locally there are strong ties to the grab bag of organisations loosely aligned with the Greens and the grassroots left. Carson ran for the lower house seat of Doncaster in last year’s Victorian state election and is active in a number of green-tinged groups including the Australian Youth Climate Coalition.
Veteran orthodox Left sources contacted by Crikey this morning found it difficult to place many of the named organisers. And Socialist Alternative, a red flag-wielding campus-based Trotskyite organisation, is expected to be preoccupied on October 15 with their ongoing boycott of the Israeli-owned chocolate shop Max Brenner (although collaboration has been mooted).
Gard was reluctant to about talk specific solutions to the current malady confronting the global commons. A rigid ideological program appeared to be off the table, with normative considerations employed instead as a basis for future debate.
“We’ll address heaps of different issues” and “provide a platform for people who don’t or can’t get their voices heard,” he said.
“The thing that has brought everyone together in the world at the moment is the fact that we are being dictated to by a small amount of people with only really a financial interest in the future of mankind.”
Sometimes the decentralised nature of the movement can lead to logistical issues. Last week, the Wall Street participants were awaiting a planned acoustic concert by British rockers Radiohead but their attendance was later revealed to be a hoax. Organisers have also had to cop a stream of abuse from Col Allan’s New York Post.