Putting the Global Occupy Movement in Context: Who Are These Protesters and What Do They Want?


Written by Lois Beckett, ProPublica

At first glance, the synchronized protests that took place in more than 900 cities around the globe on Oct. 15 seemed to indicate that Occupy Wall Street had achieved a kind of worldwide resonance.

But the truth is more complex. Many of the protests elsewhere grew out of movements that pre-date Occupy Wall Street and out of frustrations that, though similar in some ways, are also specific to their countries.

Here’s a look at the origins, demands and affects of five of these global protests, as well as the criticism they’ve faced.



In Chile, Students Protesting for Free Education Occupy Schools

The Santiago protest in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street took place during a week of ongoing national demonstrations. Since May, Chilean students have been staging protests demanding that the government make education free to all.

Secondary school students have occupied their schools, sleeping on the floor and holding their own classes. Last week, protesting students occupied Chile’s senate building in Santiago. Hundreds of thousands of people have participated in marches over the past six months. At times, the protests have become violent, with police using tear gas and water cannons on the protesters, and “masked assailants” setting fire to a city bus.

Opinion polls show more than 80 percent of Chile’s citizens support the protesting students, who also have the backing of labor unions and teachers. Government officials, including the president, have resisted the demands, saying the government cannot afford to pay for education for all students.

Top photo from tranZland via flickr


In Israel, a Summer Protest Against Rent Prices, Cost of Living

Protesters in Tel Aviv returned Oct. 15 to Rothschild Boulevard, the site of a summer occupation that prefigured the Occupy Wall Street movement.

During those demonstrations, which began July 14, hundreds of people set up tents along the most prestigious street in Tel Aviv’s financial district to protest the high cost of rent. Government ministers mocked the protesters, calling them “sushi-eaters” and “nargila [hookah] smokers with guitars.”

But over two months, demonstrations against Israel’s high cost of living brought out a record-breaking numbers of participants. A march on Sept. 3 drew 450,000 people, or roughly six percent of Israel’s population. In response, Israel’s prime minister proposed reforms, and, when they were rejected as insufficient, assembled a task force to consider ways to improve the standard of living for Israel’s middle class.

Tel Aviv’s tent city was dismantled earlier this month.


In Spain, High Youth Unemployment Rate Sparks Tent Occupations

The idea for a global day of protest on Oct. 15 was originally proposed by participants in Spain’s 15-M or “Los Indignados” movement.

The “indignados” movement began in May, when hundreds of protesters set up tents in Madrid’s historic Puerta del Sol, and others gathered elsewhere to protest Spain’s extremely high unemployment. Overall, unemployment was at more than 20 percent, and youth unemployment was at nearly 50 percent. On Oct. 15, tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Madrid, Barcelona and Seville.

Like the Wall Street protesters, protesters in Spain faced criticism for having no clear demands and using the protest as an excuse for a big party. Madrid’s tent city, which largely disbanded in June, was leaderless and had a legal advice tent, a library, a kitchen set up to prepare donated food. It also had a general assembly where participants made decisions through consensus on issues such as how to deal with police or complaints from neighbors. Some neighboring merchants were not enthused about the occupation, but, as in New York, the 24-hour pizzeria didn’t seem to mind.


In the UK, Occupation Follows Protests on Education Cuts, Riots Over Police Brutality

Over the past year, the UK has seen major student protests over rising school fees, as well as violent riots and looting this August after a young black man from a low-income neighborhood was killed by the police.

In comparison with the roughly 50,000 protesters who turned out last November to demonstrate against tuition increases, the Occupy London Stock Exchange movement is small: an estimated 600 people are camped out by St. Paul’s Cathedral, and a smaller cluster have gathered near London’s Royal Bank of Scotland and JP Morgan buildings. (At times, an estimated 2,000 protesters have gathered at the encampment. There also have been smaller protests in other cities across the UK.)

The encampment has prompted the closure of St. Paul’s Cathedral, which is reported to be considering legal action to dislodge the protesters.

Like those in New York, the Occupy London protesters have been criticized—by the Mayor of London, among others—for not having a clear set of demands. A Guardian reporter who spent a few days at the encampment reported that “a few of the key facilitators in last winter’s student protests haven’t come down” because “they’re not sure it’s radical enough.”

But the reporter, Patrick Kingsley, concluded that the lack of demands may be part of the point: “If anything, the camp itself is their demand, and their solution: the stab at an alternative society that at least aims to operate without hierarchy, and with full, participatory democracy. And to be fair, in its small way, it kind of works,” he wrote.


In Germany, a Country Less Burdened by the Financial Crisis, Protest May Reflect Fears for the Future

In Frankfurt, Europe’s financial center, roughly a hundred protesters are currently camped out in front of the European Central Bank, and at least 4,000 more took to the streets again last weekend to protest the banking system. (Smaller numbers protested in Berlin.)

The protests, inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement, have been greeted with some bewilderment by commentators. While the American protests have focused on the nation’s increasing inequality and wealth disparity, Germany “has one of the most equitable distributions of family income in the world,” according to Foreign Policy magazine. German youth are not saddled with student loan debt, the Wall Street Journal points out, and have a very low unemployment rate of 9.7 percent.

Trying to explain the reason for protests in a country “largely unscathed by the global financial crisis,” German newspapers suggested that there was “bitter disappointment” that state bailouts of banks did not result in reforms to the financial system, or that the protests were forward-looking, sparked by “young people who are afraid that the debt crisis is robbing them of their future.

This post was originally published by ProPublica.


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300,000 March in Israel; Calls For Social Justice, Lower Living Costs (Video)

A Greek Default and Obama’s Re-election Prospects



Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle6 years ago

All protests share one thing in common: frustration at the status quo, and at not being listened to. Democracies want democracy to work. People under repressive governments want to change to having a say: democracy. I know this sounds naive and pat, but I believe it to be the underlying principle of all -- people are fed up with not being served by their governments.

Andrew Carvin
Andrew Carvin6 years ago

Kids: $250 a month for each kid up to 2 until they turn 18, but no more after that. Only two caretakers can qualify for this benefit per child, and to qualify for this a caretaker must live in the same residence as the child, and actively participate in the child’s upbringing.

Income is not taxed by state/local government, and no income is earned by people who are incarcerated.

EX: Donna get’s $1000 a month for being alive, 18 years old, and has a high school degree. She has a master’s in engineering which gives her another $750 a month. She is presently employed in a job that requires her masters degree, she works 25 hours a week, and this gives her yet another $750. That would be $2500 a month, and $30000 a year.

Under this system everyone is taken care of, is encouraged to obtain education/employment, and is encouraged to make responsible decisions about having children.

(Partially inspired by the Minimex System in Belgium)

Andrew Carvin
Andrew Carvin6 years ago

Unemployment will reach 25% to 50% in the next 20 years due to increasing population, technological advancement, job obsolescence, and a rapidly shrinking job pyramid. Human society cannot survive under these conditions without changing, and here is one example of how it can change for the better.

The present money for debt exchange system with banks does not work, and would be abolished/replaced with debt free money. Under a debt free money system money would be printed as needed, and would have heavy oversight to make sure that the money being spent is actually going toward what is being bought. Wages, Education, Health Care, and Public Works are paid by the government that prints money as needed.

An individual’s monthly allowance would be addressed as follows:

Base Rate = ($1000 monthly) Alive, 18 years old, and has a high school degree.

College Education = ( $250 for each level of education that does not contain cross pollination. Associates, Bachelors, Masters, PHD) = Base rate with extra $ a month for level of education.

Working College Educated = Base rate with extra $ a month for level of education, and extra $ as determined by the education level required to do the work following the education formula. To qualify for this money a person has to at least work 20 hours a week.

Kids: $250 a month for each kid up to 2 until they turn 18, but no more after that. Only two caretakers can qualify for this benefit per child, and to qualify for this a ca

Mary B.
Mary B6 years ago

Yeah, they have a new ideal in mind, most of them just aren't able to articulate it yet, but it's been floating around since the 80's when big system thinkers, futurists and econimists saw the break down that was coming as the industrial era has ended and we started making stuff just to have jobs,,making more 'throw aways', ect. Useing more resources, polluting.The new money paradigm is inserting money at the bottom where it will bubble up. There will still be jobs and work to be done, but everyone over 18 would recieve a stipend to live on.Taxes would be on goods and services, not income, and our own government would print the money.If you're still steeped in the economic theories of the industrial era and set on thinking providing the basics for people is a hand out, then this idea is going to seem radical.But if you're an ordinary working person, haveing a garenteed income to fall back on in case of illness or job loss for any reason is just plain sensable.

Berny P.
berny p6 years ago

But, as in most protests, what are they going to put in it's place?

What are their goals and visions?

Will they reinstate the industrialism, control of banking and corporations?

If you realy want to help...find a solution...protest all you want...without a solution it will do no good!

Rosemary G.
Rosemary G6 years ago

Duh, they all want the same thing.Is it fair to pay CEOs obscene amounts of money while the country is bleeding!

Diane H F.
Diane H F6 years ago

Since Reagan, several trillion taxpayer dollars have been redistributed to corporations, always (to this day) on the excuse that it is "necessary for job creation." Trillions of dollars and three decades later, we have a fraction of the jobs at worsening wages. Since NAFTA, some 28 million American jobs have been shipped out of the country, thanks to ongoing corp tax cuts. At the same time, Clinton ended the entitlement to poverty relief for all those left behind as our jobs sail away. Making things even more complicated, without welfare aid, which actually provided enough economic stability to enable people to work their way back out of poverty, the percentage of the population in permanent, hopeless poverty has continued to grow. We're reaching a breaking point. If we don't start investing in the American people, from poverty relief to education to creating actual (eek!) rules to limit the power of corporations, there won't be an America to worry about.

Brian M.
Past Member 6 years ago

Political instability is a symptom, not the illness itself. Stay tuned for more crop failures, pandemics, wars over resources, and really funky weather.

Susan Diane
Susan Diane6 years ago

That should be a diminishing middle class and an increasingly lower class.

Susan Diane
Susan Diane6 years ago

It seems to me that the Occupy movement is about wanting a more socially just world. Saying we are the 99% refers to the statistical realities of economic distribution. 1% of the population has 40% of the wealth. This plays out in a number of ways but governments being the lackeys of the capitalist system is one of the big issues. Taxes are unfairly carried by the diminishing middle and lower classes. Corporations have lots of tax breaks and loopholes yet use the infrastructure to run their businesses.The big banks are part of this system with huge profits being given to the top executives and when they screw up the tax payer was used to bail them out. This is also what is happening in Greece-its really another big bank bail out for irresponsible banking regulations. I think each Occupy location is looking at how these social injustices are emerging in their specific geographical and political situations and so the issues may appear diverse such as the people in Chile wanting government money for free education for their children. What they are all saying is that the distribution of the resources is not working for the majority of people and governments and industry need to be held accountable and priorities need to change.