DOTmed visits Occupy Wall Street

by Brendon Nafziger, DOTmed News Associate Editor | November 01, 2011
From the November 2011 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

DOTmed News' headquarters stands in a slim Art Deco tower in lower Manhattan, literally across the street from Wall Street's most famous occupant: its bronze bull. But we're also only a few blocks away from "Liberty Square," as Zuccotti Park has become known among the hundreds of squatters who have been camped out there for over a month.

The freewheeling protest movement inspired by the Arab Spring revolts has in turn inspired similar protests in cities around the globe, and has led some pundits to wonder if the Left has found its answer to the Tea Party: a grass-roots coalition fed up with the two mainstream parties they see as in hock to special interests and corporate moneybags. It has also driven readers, advertisers and sources to ask DOTmed News: you're so close, what's it like?

To be sure, there is ridiculousness and squalor if you look for it. A cacophony of ideologies jostle uneasily beside each other in that park: a sign saying "Implement a maximum wage" stands next to "Wall Street is on occupied Algonquin land." A few weeks ago, there was even a "zombie day" where protesters tore around downtown wearing Halloween makeup. And on a late October afternoon as I wandered through Zuccoti Park, I saw a man, who looked homeless, about to vomit into a curled up paper plate a helpful protester had given him.

But despite the well-publicized infighting, mixed messages, theft, vandalism and confusion, there is a lot of public spiritedness. Bill Dobbs, a PR professional who lives in Greenwich Village and who has been volunteering as one of the group's media contacts, said almost 30 "working groups" have been formed. And volunteers are tackling everything from food to sanitation.

And of course, whatever you think of it, the phrase "We are the 99 percent" has been lodged pretty deep in the public consciousness. And it reflects a fact borne out by most studies: the rich are getting richer. According to a Congressional Budget Office analysis released in October, after tax incomes for the top 1 percent have almost tripled since 1979, but only grew 40 percent for middle-income earners, and a mere 20 percent for the bottom fifth. As it stands, according to a Levy Institute study from last year, the top 1 percent controls 35 percent of the country's wealth and income. And the bottom 40 percent? They have to make do with a measly two-tenths of 1 percent of the nation's riches.

You don't need to have memorized Mao's book of poems to be miffed by this. And most Americans, not just the ones in Zuccotti Park, don't like it. As this goes to press, for instance, a Time magazine poll found a majority of those surveyed backed the OWS protesters.

Of course, that's not to say people think the protests will get anything done. In the same poll, most respondents said OWS wouldn't accomplish much. That may be, so at least we can appreciate the appealing vein of self-aware humor among some of the protesters I've met. On a day I visited the park, for example, one group of performers, acknowledging the street theater excesses of such demonstrations, chanted: "No protest is complete without ridiculous Hitler comparisons."

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