The State of the Occupation

Israelis gather on balcony as they occupy an abandoned public building and protest against the rising cost of living on August 22, 2011 in Tel Aviv, Israel. Demonstrators continue to rally against the government's economic and social policies, which they argue have widened social and financial distance between the state's working poor and rich.</p>

Israelis gather on balcony as they occupy an abandoned public building and protest against the rising cost of living on August 22, 2011 in Tel Aviv, Israel. Demonstrators continue to rally against the government's economic and social policies, which they argue have widened social and financial distance between the state's working poor and rich.

BOSTON, Mass. — Everything about the Occupy Wall Street movement is global.

Even its origins are rooted a long way from Zucotti Park. It was Tunisians and Egyptians who first “occupied” a central square, or circle as the case might be, last year.

In those countries protesters were fighting entrenched dictators. But the source of their frustration was the same as the New Yorkers in downtown Manhattan — income inequality.

And months before Americans built their camps, angry youth across Europe were already occupying public spaces, demanding better economic conditions.

In June 2011, the French occupied the Bastille (where else?). They were inspired by similar demonstrations held throughout Spain earlier in the year.

More from GlobalPost: In-Depth Series: Occupy World

Occupy Wall Street itself was largely the brainchild of a Canadian.

All of this points to one thing: the issues Occupiers in the United States are forcing into mainstream discourse exist everywhere. The whole world suffers from income inequality. And the world suffers from corporate malfeasance and corrupt leaders.

And the world is scrambling to fight back.

Here’s a look at some of the key movements and how they are faring these days.


Two months after their most visible camp was dismantled outside St. Paul’s Cathedral, the London Occupy movement says it is alive and well — and planning to heed a global call to further action in May.

The London protests, which initially targeted the London stock exchange adjacent to St. Paul’s, have generated only a few low-key headlines since the eviction, but the organization says those involved are still exploring the ideas set in motion at the camp.

A second tented occupation of Finsbury Square, an area in the heart of the city’s financial district, still stands. Another has been pitched in east London to protest the building of an Olympic facility, and a third “nomadic” camp is now in the nearby Mile End district.

No details of further action have been released by the group, although one report suggests the headquarters of the British Bankers Association is a likely target on May 15.

Occupy London spokeswoman Ludovica Rogers said the group was now focused on continuing debates about democracy, big business and economics that began at St Paul’s through up to 30 working groups, which meet once or twice a week.

No specific action has been planned to coincide with the London Olympics in August, she said. But the group is planning a series of walking tours through the city’s various boroughs in June that it hopes will engage the public in their discussions.

Rogers said opinion was divided within the protest movement on the importance of the camps in the wake of the eviction.

“For sure, all the debates are extremely alive, and there’s a general idea of a continuous protest, whether in the form of a camp or direct action,” she told GlobalPost.

St Paul’s cathedral was closed in October, 10 days after the camp’s arrival. Criticism of the church’s handling of protesters led to the resignation of two senior clergymen. At least 20 people were arrested during the camp’s largely peaceful eviction in late February.

Rogers said that while there has been little in the way of concrete achievement by the movement, it had set the wheels in motion toward change.

“There is a feeling we’re building something together, and a consciousness,” she said. “It’s not going to be easy and we can’t expect to change things from one day to another. More than anything we’re just asking a lot of questions and reflecting on them and trying to find answers.

“We’re conscious it’s a long process.”

— By Barry Nield in London, England


Last summer's Israeli national uprising, which at its apex brought half a million people to the nation's streets — imagine a 19 million-man march, by American standards — may have been the most successful of all the Occupy-style movements last year.

Among other things, it brought about the resignations of not one but two CEO's, a significant revision of the corporate tax structure, which rose 1 percent to 25 percent despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's proposal that it be reduced to 18 percent, educational reform, a political change of guard and, not incidentally, the reduction of dairy prices.

Cottage cheese, a creamy, delectable Israeli staple, had risen more than 40 percent in two years. The public went mad.

During the last few months of this year's unusually long and frigid winter, protest leaders gathered and tried to shape their ragged upstart community into an organized, nationwide, non-partisan movement with a hierarchy, official spokespeople on various subjects and in various languages, including Russian and Arabic, and a coherent platform.

As spring blossoms, the movement plans to press ahead less in last year's manner of massive social demonstrations, and more as a political force to be reckoned with.

"We are going to be explaining what we want — including free education from birth, no parental contribution to schooling, tax reform that transfers a greater burden to the wealthy and a lesser burden on general need items, such as water, gas and groceries, and affordable housing as part of a new vision of urban planning," said Stav Shaffir, 27, one of the leaders of last year's movement who is now part of the new organization.

Among other things, the movement has a new website.

Shaffir expects social justice to be the main issue as Israel's electoral calendar heats up.

"For the first time since the establishment of the state, it won't be security this time around," she said.

Shaffir's assessment is bolstered by the fact that the new opposition leader, former Likud member and former chief of staff Shaul Mofaz, a onetime hard-line right-winger who was recently elected leader of Kadima, has staked his political future "on showing you I will lead the social protest movement and not just follow it from the sidelines."

Shaffir and her colleagues expressed "reservation and skepticism" regarding the potential takeover of their movement by mainstream politicians of whatever stripe. "We will make them answer a thousand and one questions. We are preparing serious tests for each of them," she said with quiet self-assurance.

"We have a profound need for a real change of the system, not Band-Aids or an aspirin," Shaffir said. "Today, politicians are seen as corrupt and money grubbing. They have to become real role models. I am very, very skeptical about all of our current leadership. I want a person who I believe will fight for me, and for now I'm not seeing it. They will have to prove to us that they will fight for our needs, and not for narrow interests."

— By Noga Tarnopolsky in Tel Aviv, Israel


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, 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.


Two months before Mexico’s July 2012 presidential election, there are no more protesters holding vigil in front of the gleaming panels of Mexico City’s stock exchange.

Last winter, as young Mexicans set up protest camps, they talked about creating an alternative society centered on “civic duty.”

But nobody seemed to listen.

One of the protest banners read: “The state can only sustain itself through crime.” That sentiment should have resonated in a country that’s seen violence spike since the government deployed troops to combat drug cartels in late 2006.

But despite scattered demonstrations, the Occupy movement here has failed to gain a widespread following in Mexico.

That might stem from the fact that, after decades of slow growth and cyclical crisis, Mexico’s economy is finally moving forward. In the last 10 years, the Mexican economy grew faster than that of Brazil, the juggernaut of South America.

“There’s an emerging middle class in Mexico … you see more people coming out of poverty, declines in inequality,” said Shannon O’Neil, an expert on Mexico at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“I don’t see a huge role for the Occupy movement as a formal organization [in Mexico],” she said.

At the height of the protests, a sign sat on the sidewalk outside the stock exchange that read, “Only 1 percent of the population is owner of everything you see. Get outraged! Get Organized! Raise your voice!”

A young woman in a collared dress shirt and sweater shuffled by, white ear buds plugged in her ears, fiddling with the screen of her iPhone. She didn’t even seem to notice the sign.

— By Nathaniel Parish Flannery in Mexico City, Mexico


One country ahead of the curve of the “Occupy” brand of social protest is Chile.

Many Chileans had already been in the streets demonstrating furiously for six months when the first Occupy event was organized in the capital of Santiago in October of last year.

The unrest has been led by the nation’s students — in particular the photogenic 23-year-old communist leader Camila Vallejo — who are calling for a shake-up of the university system they say excludes the poor.

But the protesters are also angry about a range of other issues, including plans to construct dams in Patagonia, low wages and Chile’s deep wealth inequalities.

The students have won several tactical victories, including the removal of two education ministers in six months. They also saw the 2012 education budget increased by $350 million, a tax overhaul to raise an additional $700 million, and a promise to give grants to more low and middle-income students.

But they are still intent on realizing their main objective: free, high-quality university education for all.

The government, meanwhile, has yet to budge on that key issue.

In April, it proposed shaking up the system that finances students’ university studies in a bid to replace private banks with state agencies. But that was quickly rejected by Gabriel Boric, president of the Student Federation of the University of Chile, who complained that the reform still involved loans rather than grants.

Now, after a relative lull since the New Year, the protests are kicking off again. On April 25, thousands marched in Santiago. Although the event was largely peaceful, some demonstrators clashed with riot police.

That fresh round of demonstrations is due to climax on May 21, when Sebastian Piñera, Chile’s deeply unpopular conservative president, will give his state of the union address.

With the government on the back foot, and the issues that prompted the discontent unresolved, few expect the protests to end any time soon.

— By Simeon Tegel in Lima, Peru


South Africans are epic protesters: catchy songs, the trademark “toyi-toyi” dance and a strong sense of justice, all derived from years of brutal oppression.

But the Occupy movement failed to catch on here or anywhere in sub-Saharan Africa. Disappointingly small groups of mostly middle-class white youth gathered in Johannesburg, Cape Town and a few other cities on the Oct. 5 global day of action. But from there it fizzled.

Small scale protests in South Africa have continued, but largely over an issue known here as “service delivery” — the provision of basic services such as electricity and clean water to impoverished black areas of the country.

Residents of Kya Sands, a Johannesburg township, blocked roads last month during an anti-government protest over the provision of state-subsidized housing. They said they were tired of living in tin shacks, and that they have been waiting years for promised houses.

“We must get houses today. If no houses today, we’ll burn one car here,” a young protester said at the time.

In recent months, a growing number of these demonstrations have involved protesters burning down municipal buildings, including schools and community halls, and the houses of local councilors.

Eight policemen are now on trial for the death of Andries Tatane, a school teacher. Police beat to death Tatane during a march to protest poor delivery of basic services in the Free State town of Ficksburg. Tatane’s death shocked the country, and was a reminder of the disturbing level of violence that often surrounds protests in South Africa.

Another protest this past year more closely resembled the Occupy brand. Julius Malema, recently ousted president of the ruling African National Congress party’s youth wing, on Oct. 27 led a “march for economic freedom.” Wearing a Che Guevara-style beret, Malema led thousands of supporters on foot from downtown Johannesburg to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, via the Johannesburg Stock Exchange — a journey of nearly 40 miles.

But while the discontent was real, this “economic freedom youth mass action” was considered to be mostly about political maneuvering ahead of an ANC elective conference later this year.

Newspapers the next day reported that only a few hours after the protest, Malema jetted off to Mauritius, in business class, wearing a slick purple suit, to party and drink expensive champagne at a wealthy friend’s wedding.

— By Erin Conway-Smith in Johannesburg, South Africa


Indian anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare and the coterie of supporters now known as “Team Anna” are striving to keep their budding mass movement alive, a year after Hazare's first hunger strike against graft brought tens of thousands of usually apathetic middle class Indians to the streets.

The problem? Anna fatigue, mostly. One guy with a little white cap can only keep television viewers interested for so long, and hunger strikes are notoriously low on vigorous action.

But Team Anna seems to have missed a trick from Eric Hoffer's seminal primer on mass movements: If your movement has a concrete goal, you can be derailed either by achieving it or by failing to make any progress, and it's all too easy to get bogged down in technicalities. In targeting corruption, Team Anna had a sufficiently amorphous and abstract enemy. But as soon as they outlined their solution — a new law known as the Jan Lokpal Bill, designed to set up a national ombudsman's office — they pretty much sealed the movement's fate.

Before long, Manmohan Singh's Congress-led United Progressive Alliance was pushing a Lokpal Bill of its own. Shouts and slogans gave way to nitpicking comparisons of different pieces of legislation. The halo over Hazare was tarnished by his association with the far Hindu right, and Team Anna itself fractured over whether or not the movement should campaign against the Congress in the recent state elections.

In the latest spat, Hazare has had to drop plans to tour the country with the hugely popular but controversial right-wing yoga guru, Baba Ramdev, and Team Anna is busily denying that the expulsion of a Muslim leader from the core group signals that it's falling apart.

This all begs the question: If nobody turns up for a protest rally, does it actually make a sound?

— By Jason Overdorf in New Delhi, India