Imagine a situation where a group of people seem to spontaneously come together, united by a common cause. At the beginning, it’s just a small group of dedicated individuals, but it gradually gains momentum and many others join in. Soon people are giving their time, energy and resources to support and sustain what has been created.
The situation above could easily describe the planting of a church, the beginning of a political campaign, the founding of a private school or the establishment of a non-profit. It could also depict what has happened at Zuccotti Park in New York City, where the Occupy Wall Street movement is unofficially headquartered.
There, a small sustainable village has popped up with all the makings of a small city. Food is prepared and served; clothing is organized and made available; and separate sections are set up for information, entertainment, medical attention and sanitation. There is an even a natural, eco-friendly filtration system for the reuse of dishwater.
The camp clearly relies on the philanthropic actions of others as well as the protection of law enforcement officers. But it also resembles a start-up company, evidenced by meetings, organized events and a strong social media presence complete with multiple live-stream video channels.
Upon visiting the epicenter of the movement, it’s evident that some demonstrators are there for the social atmosphere. Others, however, are serious in their opposition to the power and influence of the so-called “1%.” (The protests also appear to be gaining strength. A large number of unions have signed on in support, perhaps attracted by potential political capital.)
Yet, upon closer examination, the separation between the “99%” and “1%” becomes less clear. The Occupiers spread their message on social media sites that have received significant investment from banks a few blocks down the street. The computers and cell phones they utilize come from companies that required significant upfront capital only an exchange like Wall Street can provide.
Indeed, the Occupy Wall Street group could never have garnered so much attention without the products and services that the “1%” makes possible.
But even if the anger is misplaced, the support for individuals in need—and the significance placed on the dignity of their fellow citizens—is not. After spending the day with the people who make up the protests in Zuccotti Park, I came to believe that the deep desires of many of the protesters—good (but limited) government, individual opportunity and concern for the poor, to name a few—are hardly different from that of most Americans, regardless of political affiliation. The question, rather, is how to best deal with the issues facing us today, while recognizing these shared values.
And that’s a discussion worth having.