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One year on, Occupy Wall Street is back. Protesters have taken to the streets in Manhattan and beyond to mark the movement's first anniversary. While their numbers look smaller, the drive to address economic inequality appears strong, especially with the US election approaching. Here's GlobalPost's ongoing look at the Occupiers' new global push.
Occupy-style protests have erupted all over the world. From London to West Papua, here’s a look at how the movements are faring.
Before going global, drawing hordes of protesters and staking a new benchmark for the political left after years of rightward drift, the Occupy movement was just a pull-out poster in a Canadian magazine.
Last July, Vancouver-based Adbusters ran its now-iconic image of a ballerina on the Wall Street bull, urging the disaffected to occupy the center of world capitalism.
They did, the protests snowballed, and the rest is history.
Almost a year later, Adbusters is still issuing instructions to the movement it helped spawn.
On April 26, it issued “Tactical briefing #30,” calling on “dreamers, strikers and new left redeemers” to revive the Occupy movement’s public protests and make May a month of global insurrection.
But what has all this wrought in the country of its birth? The record is mixed.
Like many of the makeshift encampments elsewhere on the planet, those downtown in major Canadian cities have long since been removed.
The government of Conservative Stephen Harper achieved its first majority a few months before the Occupy protests began, and is now busy enacting a pro-business, pro-military and tough-on-crime agenda.
It has spent recent weeks almost gleefully “streamlining” — critics would say wiping out — Canada’s environmental protection controls to clear the way for, among other projects, the building of a major pipeline from the controversial oil sands of Alberta to the west coast.
The Harper government, it’s fair to say, appears to feel few constraints from the “99 percent.”
Earlier this month, The Globe and Mail reported that Canada’s Integrated Terrorism Assessment Center had closely monitored the Occupy protests. Critics say it’s frightening that an agency tasked with preventing domestic and international terrorism would equate peaceful protests and civil disobedience with terrorism.
But not all is bleak.
Krystalline Krauss, who covers the Occupy movement for the activist website rabble.ca, points to the surge of public anger and disgust prompted by the “robo-call” scandal, in which, evidence suggests, some in Harper’s party used automated phone banks to confuse voters and suppress the turnout in the last election.
Recently, the minority government of Ontario, Canada’s largest province, was compelled to raise taxes on people earning more than $500,000, a largely symbolic but notably popular act.
Just two days later, Moody’s credit rating agency downgraded Ontario, citing concerns over the province’s burgeoning debt.
Nevertheless, Krauss is optimistic and looking forward to the impact of renewed protests next month in Toronto, Canada’s economic hub.
“During winter months, Occupy activists did what was very natural for everyone or everything to do in Canada, they hibernated and used that time to rethink and re-group,” she said. “We are now entering Occupy Toronto spring with a whole new set of tactics, ideas and resources to call upon.”
— By John Ferri in Toronto, Canada
Think orangutan suits in the tropical, midday heat, the inevitable smattering of students and megaphones outside the anti-corruption commission and the occasional slut walk, or posse of transvestites and filmmakers railing against the gall of Islamic fanatics.
In Indonesia, a developing country still coming to grips with what it stands for and who gets to speak on its behalf where the hangover of a 32-year dictatorship has fueled rampant corruption, deforestation and gross concentrations of wealth, there is never a shortage of injustices to scream about.
It was poignant then that as major world cities rebuked the proclaimed hellish inequities of capitalism that Indonesia’s Occupy movement passed almost unnoticed. Only 15 or so made it to the Jakarta Stock Exchange on its behalf.
After growing the third fastest in the G20 after China and India during the global financial crisis, the mood in a country rapidly on the way up differs significantly from the financial-fueled anxieties gripping the first world.
What has been noticeable, however, is how the power of protest has trickled down to the grass roots in remote and far-flung corners of the country.
As occupiers gathered to criticize centers of corporate greed in London and New York, laborers in West Papua started their own mini revolution. Employed at one of the world’s largest gold and copper mines, run by the US-based Freeport-McMoran, they staged the longest strike in the country’s recent history, and they won. After three months, the multinational company relented and agreed to a 37 percent pay raise. Starting from a base wage of $1.50, that might not seem like much, but the victory was important.
Resonating with disenfranchised workers across the country — at mines, factories and plantations across the archipelago — employees are fed up with sweatshop conditions.
In January this year, 20,000 workers took to the streets to demand minimum wages in West Java. It is one of eight provinces where workers have been successful with similar demands. In the same month, Nike agreed to pay its factory workers employees $1 million in unpaid wages.
They are small but meaningful victories and while they may not be part of the “Occupy” movement as such, they share the same underlying motive: Why can’t there be a fair deal for all?
— By Kate Lamb in Jakarta, Indonesia
Bangladesh’s version of the Occupy protests was born in early 2011, when a massive stock market crash wiped out the life savings of hundreds of thousands of mom-and-pop investors. In the months since, a vocal protest movement has regularly brought traffic to a halt in the commercial heart of the Bangladeshi capital, where the Dhaka Stock Exchange (DSE) is located.
Like its equivalent in the United States, the Dhaka protesters have focused on the actions of their country’s ultra-rich 1 percent, who they accuse of encouraging the bubble that seized the market in 2010, and profiting from its spectacular burst. The Bangladeshi occupiers have showed themselves adept at staging attention-grabbing stunts to dramatize their plight, including the parading of “dead” investors through the crowd. Demonstrations have also turned violent, with protesters smashing cars, lighting tires and clashing with police, who are now permanently stationed outside the small exchange building.
Following a wave of protests in January and February, prices have recovered — the DSE index leaped 50 percent in February — and the demonstrations have lost some of their momentum. But the situation is far from settled. According to an official investigation recently leaked to local media, the crash was due to corporate malfeasance, including “short-selling, insider trading, asset revaluation and other forms of irregularities.”
Another report noted that the market recovery has not been accompanied by the sort of regulatory reforms that would be needed to prevent a repeat of the 2010 bubble. Prices remain volatile, and Bangladesh’s newspapers continue to report on the suicides by stock investors and the financial shenanigans of the country’s corporate shot-callers.
If these reports are any indication, the world hasn’t seen the last of the “Occupy Dhaka” movement.
— By Sebastian Strangio in Dhaka, Bangladesh
Just this past weekend, Malaysia’s “Bersih” (Malay for “clean”) movement, which has been demanding political reform for years, landed headlines when the third incarnation of its massive street protest (“Bersih 3.0”) ended in tear gas and temporary detainments.
The outcome was hardly surprising, given that, as GlobalPost’s Southeast Asia correspondent Patrick Winn wrote last week:
"All [Bersih protests] have been settled violently by police. The original rally, in 2007, brought out riot cops with water cannons. Last July, 20,000 protesters assembled for “Bersih 2.0” were scattered in a teargas-streaked crackdown."
What may be more surprising is Prime Minister Najib Razak’s announcement Monday that he was setting a minimum wage for private-sector employees — a first in the country.
Score one for Occupy Malaysia? Not quite.
The premier’s move likely has more to do with saving face after the weekend’s violence (bruised and swollen protesters showed up at a press event on Sunday, saying they had been beaten by authorities) and before the general elections expected later this year.
More to the point, critics say that the new entry-level wages (900 ringgit, or $297, for most of the country) are too high and could wind up forcing small- and medium-sized businesses to collapse and thus fuel unemployment.
Even for the workers the wage requirement will help, the systemic problems fueling the Bersih movement remain.
Prior to this weekend’s protest — which police said included up to 50,000 demonstrators (Bersih organizers put the number at 250,000) — authorities banned protesters from occupying Dataran Merdeka, or “Freedom Square.” Kuala Lumpur Mayor Ahmad Fuad cited the example of Nestle’s 100th anniversary celebration last month as an acceptable function to be held in the square.
“The company has invested a lot in this country,” the mayor was quoted by media as saying.
In the words of Boon Kia Meng, one of the occupiers:
"Ahmad Fuad is effectively saying that the investor class behind Nestle, McDonald’s and CIMB has the right to enjoy public spaces and assets, such as Dataran Merdeka, whilst the seven million inhabitants of Kuala Lumpur city, of which the majority is made up of the working class, students and children, count for nothing. The state and financial nexus, in other words the collusion between big business and the government, is unmasked for all to see."
— By Emily Lodish in Boston, Mass.