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Occupy Wall Street’ spreads

Amanda Gray | Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The “Occupy Wall Street” grassroots movement protesting the country’s economic disparity began in New York City, but has recently spread across the country to reach South Bend.


Notre Dame business professors say the growing gap between a wealthy minority at the top and the bottom 99 percent of the population has motivated many to join the uproar.

Finance professor Richard Sheehan said 90 percent of income gain from the past few years has gone to the top one percent.

“Most people in the streets don’t have the statistics to back up their use of the percentages, but they know the system isn’t working for them,” Sheehan said.

Sheehan said over 50,000 protestors have filled the streets of New York for this reason.

The movement protests the influence of businesses and lobbyists on legislation, and its goal is to encourage the increase in taxes on the wealthy, according to the protest’s unofficial website, www.occupywallst.org.

The protestors made their grievances public in a Sept. 29 document titled “Declaration of the Occupation of New York City.”

“We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments,” the document stated. “We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.”

Finance professor Tom Cosimano said the overall decline in the economy created fuel for this growing protest sentiment.

“Unemployment is still above nine percent,” he said. “But it’s also because it’s been up for so long. There’s an increase in the duration of unemployment. We haven’t had enough economic growth to bring it back to normal.”

Cosimano said the economic sector of the federal government is doing almost everything possible to spark financial growth, but its plans are not working.

“The Federal Reserve is doing just about all it can,” he said. “In terms of economic stimulation, they’ve reached their limits. The only other thing they can try is establishing a more coherent policy.”

Assistant economics professor Abigail Wozniak, who works with the Federal Reserve in Chicago and walked through protestors in front of the federal building, said the protest toward the Reserve might be misdirected.

“It’s important for students to think hard about which concerns are being well-founded and which ones are based on conspiracy theories, such as the targeting of the Federal Reserve,” Wozniak said.

Cosimano said the group’s claims about the country’s economic breakdown are not unfounded.

“It’s reasonable to say that the share of income going to this [top one percent] group has increased,” Cosmiano said. “That is part of the problem.”

However, Sheehan warned against pinning the movement to one specific cause.

“There is a temptation to focus on one thing — but oftentimes that’s misleading,” he said. “However, if there’s one event that triggered the attitude for the protests, it’s Arab Spring [the protests in the Middle East taking place since December.]”

Protests in the headlines, even as far away as the Middle East, inspired angry Americans to take a more visible stand by starting the Occupy movement, Sheehan said.

While Wozniak said comparing the group to protestors in the Arab Spring is too strong for the Occupy protestors, she hopes something good comes of the movement.

“I don’t see that this group has had much of an impact yet,” she said. “But this is also a part of the group that elected President Barack Obama. They come out for big changes.”

Sheehan said the biggest difficulties for the Occupy Wall Street protests would lie in weather and news media.

“It will become difficult as it gets cold,” he said. “Also, the other question isn’t about the people in the park — that will eventually become old news. The success of the movement will reflect when it’s truly picked up nationwide. Compare them back to the protests of the Vietnam War. The protests only worked once Middle America said, ‘No. This doesn’t work for me.'”