The recent Occupy Wall Street protests sparked a global day of action on Saturday, with demonstrations in Europe, Asia and Australia seeing thousands take to the streets to protest against corporate greed and corrupt governments.
While the majority of protests were peaceful, Occupy Rome turned violent, leaving 70 people injured, three seriously. Forty of the injured were police officers. Stephan Faris described events for Time:
“The march hadn’t travelled far when groups of young men began pulling up sampietrini — the black cobblestones so characteristic of the Italian capital — and hurling them at shop windows. Others broke into parked cars and set them alight with Molotov cocktails, pulled down signposts to smash ATMs, and crashed through the glass doors of a supermarket. Soon, large parts of the demonstration had given way to skirmishes as men with masks over their face engaged the police with rocks and bottles.
By late afternoon, the protest route had devolved into a full-scale battle, with police vans engaging in charges against hundreds of rock-throwing protesters. Tear-gas floated like mist through the streets. Demonstrators barricaded the roads with metal barriers and dumpsters, and at least two members of the Italian paramilitary police escaped an armored van seconds before protesters set it on fire. A warehouse belonging to the ministry of defense was set ablaze and a statue of the Virgin Mary was pulled from a church and shattered on the street.”
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Over in London, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange addressed the crowd, lamenting a greedy and corrupt system. “People are being ordered to Guantanamo Bay to obey the rule of law, and money is being laundered through the Cayman Islands and London to obey the rule of law,” said Assange. “This movement is not about the destruction of law, but the construction of law.”
But as Lisa O’Carroll noted at The Guardian, this wasn’t a huge protest: “It was clear from the lack of crowds in the streets surrounding the kettled area that this protest is very isolated. Life is carrying on as normal in the streets away from St Paul’s.”
Madrid had one of the largest turnouts, with tens of thousands packing the Puerta del Sol square, echoing the “indignadas” protests that began on May 15. In Chicago 175 protesters were arrested after they refused to close down the camp they’d set up. About 40 demonstrators slept overnight in Hong Kong after a demonstration with 200 people on Saturday.
In Washington DC, well-known academic and activist Dr Cornel West was arrested while protesting outside the US Supreme Court building. Supporters tweeted photos of his arrest:
Even in New York the protests weren’t limited to Wall Street and its surrounds. Thousands of protesters marched through lower Manhattan to Times Square yesterday, with 80 people arrested, reports Chris Hawley from Associated Press:
“Thousands of demonstrators protesting corporate greed filled New York City’s Times Square, mixing with gawkers, Broadway showgoers, tourists and police to create a chaotic scene in the midst of Manhattan.
‘Banks got bailed out, we got sold out!’ protesters chanted Saturday from within police barricades. Police, some in riot gear and mounted on horses, tried to push them out of the square and onto the sidewalks in an attempt to funnel the crowds away.”
Last Thursday 150 different protests occurred across US universities as part of the “Occupy Colleges” movement. Liz Dwyer in Good wrote about why US students would feel the need to protest:
“That’s no surprise given that billions have been cut from higher education over the past three years, leading to wait lists for classes that are thousands of students long, particularly in California. On top of that, approximately 150,000 California students were turned away from community colleges last year because of cuts. With a 12.1 percent unemployment rate — the second-highest in the nation — and employers adding a mere 11,000 net jobs this year, California students in particular are feeling the jobless pinch, so it’s not surprising that more than 20 percent of the colleges participating in Occupy Colleges are in the Golden State.”
Here in Oz, Mike Stutchbery headed along to the Occupy Melbourne protests and he wrote on The Drum that while it was a odd hotch-potch of protesters with no leader or direction, at least people were doing something:
“Dammit, people are at least questioning the status. At least somebody is building a space where people of every stripe — and besides the usual suspects, I saw an awful lot of fresh faces and young families — can come and discuss the problems of their world, face-to-face, removed from the hurdles that telecommunications can provide. There was the slight whiff of the Enlightenment about the day’s event, a return to civil, public discussion.
That should be applauded, and that should be encouraged.”
Jill Stark from The Age penned a colourful description of the protesters:
“As a call to arms it was a rather civilised affair. Protesters were politely urged not to light fires or stray past the rally’s boundaries. One dreadlocked organiser was seen diligently picking up the carpet of roll-up cigarette butts.
There was even a dedicated ”conflict resolution” go-to person in case of flashpoints between the disparate groups. With a range of stalls, a family area and a kitchen serving vegan-friendly fare, this was more like a market than a co-ordinated push to overthrow an oppressive regime.”
About 500 protesters turned out in Sydney to demonstrate on Saturday, but despite plans to camp out, most of the protesters had left by today.
Economist Ross Gittins wrote a fascinating column in today’s SMH, explaining why economists should question the high remuneration paid to CEOS and bankers:
“So economists are supposed to be pro-market, not pro-business, and certainly not pro-management. That’s how it’s supposed to be, but it’s seldom the way it is. In practice, economists who work for business aren’t free to criticise it in public. The same goes for those who work for governments. And few academic economists take an interest in such mundane issues.”