The Occupy Wall Street protest movement is making headlines all over the world and has spread to other cities in the United States. These protests have engendered support from the general population as many sympathize with the views of this protest movement. This is not the first time that the financial center of the United States has been targeted by protesters, although this protest movement may be different this time for a number of reasons. Here are some other protests that have targeted Wall Street over the years.
TUTORIAL: Credit Crisis: Introduction
In October 1979, thousands of protesters descended on Wall Street to protest the use of nuclear power in general, and the proposed Seabrook Nuclear Power plant in New Hampshire. The protesters planned the demonstrations to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the market crash of 1929.
The purpose of the demonstration was to prevent the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) from opening and to highlight a list of 61 listed public companies that were involved in some facet of the nuclear power industry. The exchange opened as usual and thousands of protesters were arrested.
The Seabrook Nuclear Power plant was eventually built and opened for commercial operations in 1990. NextEra Energy (NYSE:NEE) is the current owner of the plant. (For related reading, see The History Of Capitalism: From Feudalism To Wall Street.)
In March 1948, the United Financial Employees Union went on strike against the New York Stock Exchange and the Curb Exchange (now known as the American Stock Exchange). The union, which represented many of the back office workers on Wall Street, was asking for higher wages for its members. The strike was also backed by the American Federation of Labor, which sent members of other unions to Wall Street to support.
The demonstrators attempted to block the entrance to the exchanges and some other offices in the Wall Street area, and the protest soon turned violent with dozens arrested by the police.
In April 1990, demonstrators that were still imbued with the spirit of Earth Day that had been celebrated a day earlier organized a protest near the NYSE. Several hundred protestors rallied against general themes of corporate greed and disrespect for the environment and attempted to block entrances. Trading at the exchange continued as always and the police made more than 200 hundred arrests. (For related reading, see 4 History-Making Wall Street Crooks.)
The opposition to the Vietnam War was at a fever pitch by 1970, and the movement decided to target the center of capitalism that year. The demonstration started peacefully enough with protesters demanding the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam. At some point, several hundred construction workers arrived on the scene and attacked the protesters using the protective hard hats worn as a weapon to beat the demonstrators.
The melee became known as the Hard Hat Riot and spread to other areas in Lower Manhattan, attracting hundreds of sympathetic marchers. The riot eventually reached City Hall, where the American flag was being flown at half staff to honor the memory of four students killed at Kent State University a few days earlier. The mob of construction workers and sympathizers entered City Hall and forcibly returned the flag to full staff.
The Occupy Wall Street movement has some important differences compared to previous protest attempts. Most historical movements that focused on Wall Street were mostly single issue protests targeting a particular cause.
Though the message of this protest has been unfocused, at the heart of it is the issue that corporations and governments are too closely linked, and that the firms and banks of Wall Street (the 1%) are given tax breaks, bailouts and opportunities that aren't available to the other 99% of American citizens. The current protest also expresses generic opposition to corporate greed and income inequality that is embodied figuratively and literally in Wall Street. The movement calls this symbol of capitalism "the financial Gomorrah of America."
Another difference is that the current movement does not have a timetable for its protest and has settled into a semi-permanent occupation force in the Wall Street area.
Another important characteristic that distinguishes this movement is that it seems to have suddenly spread to other cities as sympathizers rallied around the original protesters. This spontaneous support may be due to the prominence of social media in the lives of younger Americans something that previous protest movements could not use to their benefit. (For related reading, see The Scariest Days On Wall Street.)
The Bottom Line
Any comparison of this movement to the "Arab Spring" that recently occurred in North Africa and the Middle East seems far fetched, and although some may admire the anti-establishment views of the Occupy Wall Street movement, others think that this protest may fizzle out because it hasn't articulated a definite set of goals to achieve.