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‘Occupy Wall Street’ prompts Australian echo

by Chris Zappone

Could this be the latest US fad to catch on in Australia?

Earlier this month, New York police arrested hundreds of demonstrators attempting to occupy Wall Street in a so-called anti-greed protest.

Activists on this side of the Pacific are now preparing to rally later this month, with at least one protest planned for Melbourne’s City Square on October 15. Other groups met on the weekend to plan similar activities in Sydney’s Martin Place – home to the Reserve Bank and other financial institutions.

While still modest in total numbers, the local groups are using Twitter – under the hash tag #OccupyOz – and other social media to drum up support.

The US protests drew in part on the Arab Spring uprisings, where crowds tapped Facebook and other websites to topple long-standing dictatorships in several countries. The US groups, which have now spread to more than 100 cities, are seeking to draw attention to what they see as the excessive power of business in American life.

The stuttering US economy has barely grown this year and the unemployment rate hovers above 9 per cent. While the same conditions are not in play in Australia – where the economy continues to expand at a modest pace with the jobless rate at about 5.3 per cent – local activists argue that there’s much still to be fixed.

The Melbourne group said online that its members were not “anti-capitalist” but that “’capitalism has gone wrong.’”

“Holding the financial system accountable” and “addressing the concentration of wealth,” were also topics for debate. And the interest extends to other state capital cities, as well.

“After the Oct 16 organisational meeting, when should we occupy Brisbane?” Tweeted OccupyBrisbane, which then links to a Facebook poll for people to lodge their opinion.

To date, the Melbourne group claims about 1500 fans on Facebook, while the Sydney group has garnered about 500 followers.

The US movement began in lower Manhattan on September 15 when hundreds of protesters set up a protest camp. The numbers have since swelled to thousands, and media attention has increased. At the beginning of the month, hundreds protesters were arrested in New York as they tried to cross the Brooklyn Bridge.

Mainstream commentators and unions have taken note with the United Steelworkers, the largest industrial union, throwing their support behind it.

Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein this week argued that the substance of the leaderless movement should be taken seriously.

“The organisers of Occupy Wall Street are fighting to upend the system,” wrote Mr Klein. “But what gives their movement the potential for power and potency is the masses who just want the system to work the way they were promised it would work.”

University of New York journalism professor Jeff Jarvis argues that the movement is a “hash tag revolt”, driven as much by social media than attendance of street events.

“What’s happening is an attempt to define a new public, now that we can,” wrote Mr Jarvis on his blog.

In Melbourne, activists have announced plans to hold a rally at City Square in the CBD on October 15. Activists met on Saturday in Sydney to discuss a possible plan to occupy Martin Place. Social media sites of have lit up with discussion of similar plans elsewhere in Australia, under the hash tag #OccupyOz.

The stirrings of a local movement come after protesters began camping out on Wall Street in late September to lament what they see as the disproportional power of business in American society. The protests or plans for them in the US have spread from New York to more than 100 cities, driven by social media.

czappone@fairfax.com.au

source: ‘Occupy Wall Street’ prompts Australian echo

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