The Occupy Wall Street movement began in New York City when thousands of protesters descended on Wall Street, which is seen by most citizens as the center of the American financial sector, to show widespread dissatisfaction with corporate greed and wealth disparity. The protesters marched and set up a makeshift camp site that will "occupy" the area until they feel appropriate change has been enacted. Occupy Wall Street has inspired similar movements in cities and towns across America, including Occupy Boston, Occupy Oakland, and Occupy Portland, as well as several solidarity events around the world in places such as the Netherlands, Brussels, and Egypt.
While individuals and groups within the Occupy Wall Street movement advocate various issues, the overarching theme throughout the movement is closing the wealth gap, decreasing corporate political power, regulating corporate activities, increasing corporate responsibility, and decreasing the size and power of corporations in America. Occupy Wall Street protesters have adopted "We are the 99%" as their motto, which has become ubiquitous in their street and Internet campaigns.
This slogan is meant to describe the injustice of 1% of the U.S. population controlling a large majority of the country's wealth. Websites, blogs, and twitter content tagged with this slogan serve as statements of solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement and pictures and stories tagged with "We are the 99%" are used to illustrate the death of the American dream and the plight of those that do not control large amounts of wealth and privilege.
Perhaps more than anything else, Occupy Wall Street embodies the frustration of many U.S. citizens at the current economic climate and infrastructure in America. Many perceive that corporations engaged in reckless and even unethical practices over the last decade, leading to an unsustainable financial system that eventually fell apart. When this happened, the unemployment rate skyrocketed while the average and median wages for American workers plummeted. However, the most powerful players within the institutions that caused the worsening economy continued to be paid wages that sustained their excessive wealth.
Instead of the institutions responsible for the meltdown being held accountable, they were deemed "too big to fail" and given large amounts of government money to remain in business and the leaders of these institutions continued to receive exorbitant salaries and bonuses. While many Americans lost their jobs, savings, pensions, houses, and other sources of comfort and livelihood, large corporations profited. In fact, many of the institutions that had contributed largely to the downturn had constructed systems in such a way that they would profit from a national macroeconomic collapse.
The government agreed to financially "bail out" large institutions that were suffering from the downturn under the supposition that the improved health of these organizations would create jobs. However, after the government money was received, these corporations continued to lay off workers while posting record profits and paying no taxes. Indeed the only thing that seemed to increase were the bonuses of the top players in these firms.
Occupy Wall Street not only strives to illustrate the wealth gap in America and the irresponsibility of Wall Street culture, it also tries to bring to light the social injustices among the economic classes. Not only do the 1% control the wealth in America, they are also enormously influential in politics, government, and law and therefore determine who is treated in what way.
Occupy Wall Street uses examples of arrest, prosecution, and sentencing trends among various socio-economic groups; corporate interests mirrored in legislation; and the profound increase in corporate contributions to political campaigns as evidence of this trend toward economic oligarchy. Occupy Wall Street operates with the goal of taking this nearly universal power away from the corporate elite and placing it back into the hands of the citizenry as a whole.
Within the larger liberal context, Occupy Wall Street embodies the ideas of government regulation of business practices, the unsustainable wealth disparity the exists in the U.S. and the need to end it, and the social injustice that exists among the economic classes. Many smaller and more specific liberal ideals have also come into play during the course of the Occupy Wall Street movement including unionization, living wages for every worker, outsourcing and the fallout of fair trade agreements, the burden of economic and healthcare costs on the middle and lower classes, the need to break up monopolies, and the benefits of environmental, health, and workplace regulations.
To the overall liberal movement, Occupy Wall Street is the tangible result of the rise in corporate power and devaluation of the community, citizenry, and individual worker.