Santa Fe is the latest in a long line of cities to host Occupy Wall Street protests. Saturday, Oct. 8, marked the second weekend in a row of protests in front of a local Bank of America branch.
On Oct. 15, protesters will move to the Roundhouse as part of worldwide marches inspired by Occupy Wall Street, which has been underway for a month now.
Darryl Wellington, a journalist who joined the Santa Fe protests, says the current movement isn’t spontaneous, but rather a “continuation of an attitude that’s been around for quite some time,” below the radar.
“There have been so many left-wing protests that haven’t gotten [media attention],” Wellington tells SFR. “It is absurd.”
But Occupy Wall Street has elicited a bigger media reaction—which, in turn, has spurred its regional growth.
“To occur across the country, you’ve got to be in the news in the first place,” Wellington says. “It’s cyclical.”
The protests, which began on Wall Street on Sept. 17, aren’t showing any signs of dying down. As of press time, more than 1,300 cities across the globe have held or are planning Occupy-related rallies. Protesters in Santa Fe said their numbers doubled, from 75 to around 150, between the first two protests.
If a single grievance could exemplify their outrage, it’s that the country’s richest 1 percent is profiting at the expense of everyone else.
Craig Barnes, an organizer with the local advocacy group We Are People Here!, says US democracy has been “taken over by an ideology of selfishness and greed.”
“Wall Street represents that,” he tells SFR.
The most recent data on income inequality, from a 2008 University of California study, found that the richest
1 percent of the US controlled almost 21 percent of the country’s wealth. Before the 2000s, income inequality hadn’t been that high since 1929.
But protestors’ feelings trump the numbers, Kate Krause, a labor economist at the University of New Mexico, tells SFR.
“These people did not just go out and read census data,” Krause says. “There’s the sense and perception that the fat cats got away with something.”
Jason Scott Smith, a UNM historian and author of the Great Depression history book Building New Deal Liberalism, sees some similarities between that era and today.
In the 1930s, protests from the left included farmers who kept their crops from the marketplace to avoid low prices. At the same time, people from the center and right held rallies against property taxes and rental rates, Smith says.
Today, left-wing protesters and tea partiers lament the economic downturn with equal furor.
But while a segment of the public may harbor animosity toward multinational corporations, Smith says some make exceptions. He cites the recent death of Steve Jobs as an example.
“It seems like plenty of people are feeling sympathy toward this corporate titan,” Smith says. “How much taxes does Apple pay to the government? These are questions certain people ask about some corporations and not others.”
Despite calls against a partisan co-opt of the Occupy movement —including one from former Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold, a Democrat—the Democratic Party is already urging its supporters to side with the protests in a planned letter to Republican congressional leaders, and the liberal advocacy group MoveOn.org has publicly supported next week’s protest at the Roundhouse.
Smith says it’s too early to say whether this strategy will pay off, stating that most Americans historically didn’t have favorable views of protest movements.
“If Obama were to grab a bullhorn and join the protests, that may be a bad move with the public,” he says.
The movement’s political success will depend on how well it can organize and develop a strategic message, Christine Sierra, a UNM political science professor, tells SFR. She adds that it lacks an infrastructure—but to many, its leaderless character is the point.
Wellington mentions how the tea party didn’t originally have a clear agenda, but eventually gained enough steam to steer policymakers in its direction.
“Maybe we don’t have the type of power that the tea party backers have, but that’s why we need numbers,” he says. “With enough people protesting, maybe we can get some answers.”
At SFReporter.com, we’re posting frequent updates on the Occupy Santa Fe movement—photo, videos, even some maps to send you to the right protest location. On Twitter, follow #OccupySantaFe or visit the movement’s Facebook page, facebook.com/occupysantafe.