Occupy Philly: What do they want?

Many have complained that the specific demands of the Occupy movement are hard to pin down. Humorous Flickr collections of protest signs’ disparate messages, particularly on Wall Street, abound. I have been among the armchair critics asking exactly what the hell these people want.

After attending the first day of protest in front of City Hall and talking to those gathered, I have a better understanding of the issue. I think.

The question of exactly what Occupy demands will never be answered because there is no single demand, or even a list of demands, on which all members agree. What unifies the movement is not a common goal but a common sentiment – an almost unbearable frustration with the state of the economy and, in many cases, the government whose legislation has contributed to current economic conditions.

The feeling manifests in different goals for different people. Many student-age protesters rail against the cost of college and student loans. Laborers want more jobs. A Vietnam vet put banking reform at the top of his list. Other people have been circulating fliers about ending wars, stopping London’s financial bailout, reforming healthcare and addressing racial and LGBT disparities.

The “99 percent” rallying cry has been particularly cogent because it summarizes a feeling of alienation from the economic system that most Occupy participants – and many people in general – can identify with. Referring to the vast majority of Americans, who do not wield a great deal of power or wealth, the slogan is perhaps the closet thing to a unified ethos of the movement.

Organizers in Philly seem to understand the breadth of viewpoints represented and have instructed members who speak with the media to specify that their opinions are their own.

“We all have a voice,” said Steve Ross of Occupy Philly’s media outreach working group. “We will all deal with the
media, but we will make it clear that our opinions are our own. No one
person speaks for all of us.”

So, ask ten people what they want the Occupy campaign to achieve and you’ll most likely get ten different answers, or a complete evasion of the question because no one person will speak for the entire movement. While their goals are borne out of the same powerful feelings, they will never perfectly line up across the entire movement.

Fair? Yes. Accurate? Yes. Easily understood? No. Conducive to working towards any kind of concrete solution? That remains to be seen.

More on Occupy Philly: Day One

Photos and video from Occupy Philly’s first day

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