Timber pallets and traffic cones are cornering off a segment of Eyre Square as a flurry of tents, posters and activists have moved onto the street, joining thousands of people across the world in the Occupy movement. So, what is the Occupy movement, why are they taking to our streets and what do they hope to achieve?
The Occupy movement consists of series of international protests which have been ongoing since 17 September. They began with an encampment on Wall Street, the financial district of New York City and have since spread to over 1,280 towns and cities worldwide.
Adbusters, a Canadian activist group, initiated the Occupy movement when they called for a peaceful occupation of Wall Street in what they termed a ‘Tahrir Moment’. This was in reference to the eighteen day revolt in Tahrir Square in Cairo in early 2011. 250,000 people attended the Tahrir revolt to force the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and establishment of democracy. The occupation of Tahrir Square was a success when on February 11 Mubarak stepped down after rhirty years as Egyptian President.
The Egyptians had a clear objective in their protests earlier this year. They all united to achieve democracy. It seems illogical that the Occupy movement is styling itself on the Tahrir revolt which was seeking democracy, when the Occupy movement is occurring in countries that are already democratic. There is method to their madness however, as the Occupy movement are hoping to establish a new type democracy. The Adbusters’ website declares that through the Occupy movement they aim to establish “Democracy not Corporatocracy” and to end the monied corruption of modern day democracy. The protests have been described as a democratic awakening as they are calling for people to examine alternatives to capitalism.
Initially critics of the Occupy movement said that it would never achieve anything as the protesters had not been able to collate their demands. However, by mid October the Occupy movement began to assemble under one main objective, for G20 leaders to vote for a ‘Robin Hood’ tax. The idea behind this tax is to take from the rich (the financial sector) and give to the poor. There are three main proposals on how to implement a Robin Hood tax. First, the Financial Transaction Tax, which would tax transactions such as stocks, bonds, foreign currency and derivatives by 0.05%. It is estimated that this tax could raise £250 billion annually. The second proposal is to impose a flat rate bank levy on financial institutions. Although the UK, France and Germany have already imposed bank levies, the money generated from them is not being used to help the poor. The final proposal advocated a Financial Activities Tax (FAT) which is similar to a VAT style tax on the financial sector. The UK government has already said it would be willing to introduce such a tax if other EU member states did the same. Supporters of the Robin Hood tax include the Pope, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Bill Gates.
The power of social media has been truly brought to light by the Occupy protests. #Occupy has filled up twitter pages while Facebook is being used to organise Occupy events. The Occupy Galway Facebook page has nearly 1000 ‘likes’ at time of going to press despite only a handful of people actually protesting at the campsite. “We are the 99%”, the unifying slogan of the Occupy events, started off in a Tumblr blog and went viral. The slogan refers to the difference in wealth between the top 1% and the remaining 99% of US citizens. Although percentages refer to US statistics only, the slogan has been used in Occupy movements across the world.
It remains to be seen whether these protests will actually make a difference or if their significance will become watered down due to disagreements about what they are actually protesting. If the Robin Hood tax is implemented, will the Occupy movements disperse or will they continue their protest to de-corrupt democracy? Only time will tell.
This article first appeared in the print edition of SIN newspaper on November 1.