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Interview: What Does the Occupy Wall Street Movement Want?

Protesters have now been "occupying" Wall Street for more than three weeks.
Last month, a diffuse group of activists denouncing corporate greed and disparities between rich and poor began a loosely organized protest in New York's financial district, camping in a downtown park.

The Occupy Wall Street movement is now attracting several hundred participants, and similar demonstrations have spread to cities across the United States, including Boston, Chicago, Washington, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

With the protest entering its fourth week, Radio Farda correspondent Hannah Kaviani asked Mark Bray, a spokesperson for Occupy Wall Street and a member of their press team, about the goals of this movement.

RFE/RL: How did Occupy Wall Street begin?

Mark Bray: There's a magazine called Adbusters based out of Canada. They put in the initial call. If you search on the Internet, you can find the phrasing, the words of the official call.

They wanted their readers to come down, bring tents, and occupy Wall Street for two months to send the message about corporate greed and the failings of Wall Street and the failings of the government. But it was up to certain activists to actually take up the call and organize the logistics to get it together.

Now personally, I got involved in the beginning like anyone else. I heard about the call on the Internet, I showed up the first day and I've gotten more involved since, so I was not one of the people who organized it before it started.

RFE/RL: You talked about two months. This has been going on for more than 20 days. Will it end after two months or will it continue?
We're trying to create a democratic forum for people to express themselves that is not simply reducible to
political parties
and politicians.

Bray: The original call was for two months. I think that probably the people who put out the initial call could not have foreseen how big and important this would become.

Adbusters put out the call. They set an idea in motion. But once the idea started moving, it was up to the people who took it to actually make it what it's become. And so there is no plan to end this.

When I get that question, what I usually say is what we're trying to do is to create a new way of doing politics. We're trying to create a democratic forum for people to express themselves that is not simply reducible to political parties and politicians.

Since we're trying to create this new form of participatory democracy we want it to continue and to be a model of new ways of active involvement in our own affairs in our communities. And so in that regard, we want this to be a model of something different and something that will be continuing.

RFE/RL: So this is becoming more of a political thing, to create a new model of political participation?

Bray: Yes, that's what I'm saying. If you look at our newspaper, we have a newspaper called the Occupied Wall Street Journal.

And if you look at the articles in it and what people are saying and you listen to the interviews, it's clear that people feel like the politicians have not been prioritizing the needs of working people, because for eight years we had George Bush from the conservative Republican Party in office, and now we have Barack Obama from the liberal Democratic Party.

Even if the political parties change, when the economic crash occurred and the Wall Street bankers speculated and gambled away people's lives, nevertheless, working people are the ones who suffer and the financial institutions are the ones that continue with business as usual, pretty much.

And so people are starting to think that we need to re-envision how we are relating to our democracy.

RFE/RL: Your action seems to be directed against the political system of the country rather than just voicing frustration.

Bray: We're thinking of what we're doing as -- in the American context -- a new kind of social movement.

Generally speaking, in the past, most American political participation was oriented around trying to request something from politicians to get their attention to act in a certain way.

Certainly we want them to pay attention, but the difference here is that if politicians choose to take up what we're saying and turn that into legislation and to change their policies, that's their prerogative, they can do that.

But we're not going to put all of our eggs in the baskets of the politicians, we're not going to put all our energy into trying to appeal to them...Instead we're going to try create an independent voice -- an independent forum -- for people to be directly democratic in their activities that can be replicated all around the country.

In hundreds of cities around the United Sates, the Occupying movement is starting, and they're creating spaces for people to express themselves in ways that they really honestly didn't feel like they could before.

That's the kind of local, direct community participation that we're looking for. And where it goes from there remains to be seen."

A man with a U.S. dollar bill taped over his mouth joins Occupy Wall Street protesters during a march to Foley Square in New York.
A man with a U.S. dollar bill taped over his mouth joins Occupy Wall Street protesters during a march to Foley Square in New York.
RFE/RL: Does it mean that occupying Wall Street does not have a picture in mind of what is going to happen next, after forming these communities?

Bray: What I meant by that is that our emphasis is on the movement and on procedure and the practice of what we're doing. So we put a lot of emphasis and time into how we organize ourselves and we want that organization to speak for itself, to be a model of how we do things.

As we come toward the presidential elections in 2012, we will see politicians from both parties trying to use the message of Occupy Wall Street for their own benefit.
So we have a general assembly once a day where everyone can come in and participate in a consensus-based decision-making process. And we have series of working groups – committees -- that handle the specific day-to-day tasks such as food, medicine, speaking to the press, putting out media and so forth.

So we want to bring people into a new way of democratic participation. Now, certainly what we want first and foremost is economic justice. We want a world where people have jobs, healthcare and so forth.

RFE/RL: Do you expect some politicians who are now in Congress or have authority to join Occupy Wall Street?

Bray: Well, some major politicians have actually come out to endorse it. One example is Nancy Pelosi, who is one of the most important Democrats in Congress, and she’s come out in support.

And I think that as we come toward the presidential elections in 2012, we will see politicians from both parties trying to use the message of Occupy Wall Street for their own benefit.

In fact, we've already started to see this happening. When you look on TV and you hear Republicans discuss it, what they often say is: "Yes, the protesters are right to complain about the problems of the economy, but they should be blaming President Obama and the Democratic Party."

And when you hear the Democrats speaking, they say: "Yes, they are right to be complaining about the economy. The reason for it is the eight years of the George [W.] Bush administration."

And I think what you can see from this game back and forth is just how popular protest and popular discontent get channeled back into the normal political [channels] -- the normal political ways of doing things -- where the other party is blamed for what is going on.

RFE/RL: What does Occupy Wall Street think about all of this?

Bray: Basically, what we're thinking is that it's good that these politicians are taking notice of us and are responding because it shows that our message has become important enough for them to have to care.

But what we're trying to do is distance ourselves from them and say: "You should take up the call for this, but we're not going to assume that you will because for too long movements have assumed that politicians -- at least in the United States -- would seriously consider these things but we're no longer assuming that.

We're instead assuming that probably you're not going to do anything, so we're going to continue the movement."

RFE/RL: Winter is coming, how will the movement deal with the cold?

Bray: Yes, it's going to get very cold. Fortunately, that's not a problem facing the Occupy movements in the southern United States where it's warm.

But for us [in New York], it's an issue. I've spoken to people -- we have a working group called Comfort, which is in charge of sleeping bags and supplies for people sleeping -- and they've said they've already started to make plans with generators to stay through the winter.

But certainly the number of people staying will -- I would imagine -- drastically decline.

But my hope is that by then we'll have the movement going to the point where the importance of the symbolism of people sleeping there won’t be quite as important because we'll have established a structure that can continue without having as many people literally sleeping in the park because the point is not just that there are people sleeping on the floor, but what we can make from that.

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