What Israelis Can Teach Occupy Wall Street

People rallying for equality seem to be everywhere now — Wall Street, London, Hong Kong, Madrid — but very little really comes close to what happened in Israel this summer: thousands camping out, hundreds of thousands marching, a society transformed. “It’s all part of the same thing. It’s people saying, ‘We want to be in charge,’ ” says Stav Shaffir, 26, one of the first Israeli campers. Yonatan Levi, also 26 and an early organizer, offers a comparison with the scale of things in New York City: “Sadly, I think we were much more successful in transmitting our message and our ability to show up in great numbers. I mean, a half-million to a million people!”

The tent protests in Tel Aviv began in muggy mid-July with a handful of young people pitching tents to protest the skyrocketing price of housing in Israel. (Tents — get it?) The first night, reporters outnumbered protesters, but a chord had been struck. The focus quickly widened to take in a gamut of shared complaints about an economy that looked great at the macro level but had created a growing gap between rich and poor. Inspired in part by the Arab Spring (“People thought, Wow, if they can do it, why can’t we do it?” says Shaffir) and in part by Madrid’s indignados movement, the Israeli protests combined and managed the contagious spread seen in Israel’s neighbors as well as the difficult economic and social issues similar to those that emerged in Spain. Ground zero in the Tel Aviv protests, fittingly enough, was Rothschild Boulevard, a shady walkway named for a fabulously wealthy family who helped found Israel as a state originally grounded in social welfare. Within two weeks, 40 camps sprang up around the country. Two weeks later, the camps numbered 100 and marchers 350,000, a whopping turnout in a country of just 7 million.
(See photos of Occupy protests from around the world.)
“The spirit of this was amazing,” says Shaffir. “That’s maybe something you can send to the people at Wall Street: happiness was the key. Journalists asked, ‘Is it really serious? Because I see a lot of people smiling.’ I said that’s what makes it serious. People have hope again.”
Another key: nonpartisanship. There was no room for labels and even less for parties in a protest that strove for a “new language” based on common ground staked out in group discussions, assemblies or councils. People shared with strangers what they were embarrassed to confess to their children: We can’t afford the expensive ice cream.
“The other thing that’s very important is chaos,” says Shaffir, who arrived for a breakfast interview after spending the night talking on Rothschild Boulevard, where a handful of tents had gone up anew, weeks after police dismantled the last vestiges of the main camp. “As a movement that goes up against the most powerful force, if you act like an organization, like an institution, you lose. If you have one head, they know what to cut off. You have to be like water, to be everywhere, to be unpredictable. We work like an open code. Everybody should act their part. Everybody should act like a leader.”
(Read about the New York City protesters holding ground in Zuccotti Park.)
At one end of Rothschild, a headquarters of sorts went up, though it amounted to a few workstations under fabric stretched to reduce the glare on the computers that lay underneath. “I think in a way what we see in the streets today is a result of things we were trained for from using the Internet since age 5,” says Levi. “I think these assemblies are chat rooms, wide open, with this sense of nonhierarchy, that everyone is equal in the kingdom of the Internet, where there are no kings or queens. We’ve taken these tools that we’ve acquired unknowingly — this generation of ours which was blamed for not doing anything in the world — and now we’ve taken these things we’ve learned out into the street. And it’s pretty impressive, I must say.”
In Israel, the leap to the masses was both more challenging and, in other ways, a bit easier than elsewhere. Jewish Israeli society is relatively small and cohesive, united in a sense of nationhood and shared risk; almost everyone, for instance, serves in the army. But it is also riven by differences, between secular and religious, between Jews and the 20% of the population who are Arab, between recent immigrant and native-born. Only the black-clad ultra-orthodox religious, who gather in residential enclaves, started the summer with a community, Shaffir notes. “If you’re secular, your community is your family. That’s all.”
“If we talk about tips, the most important thing is to connect the different groups, the different social classes,” she says. “And that’s the hardest thing.”
Yet it happened. In just weeks, the protests that some conservative politicians reflexively dismissed as elitist or leftist swelled into a national movement, drawing Israelis from every class and cohort, all of them beaming as they found one another on the street together. In the tent cities, campers organized kitchens, kindergartens, trash removal. They even elected representatives to reclaim a political realm that had grown alien and remote, the province of professional politicians. “And people were so happy,” Shaffir says. “Israelis, for so many years, didn’t feel like we could do anything.”
(Read about rioters hijacking Rome’s Occupy protest.)
In time, the political establishment scrambled to respond, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu naming a committee to list specific actions — more money for child care, less for defense — that many in the group call a misapprehension of what was, at bottom, something more diffuse: a remaking of the national consciousness. “The fact that we have no specific list of demands is very hard for them,” says Levi, referring to the Knesset, the Israeli legislature. “I’m not sure we’ve directly affected the political system yet, but I’m sure we will. Because the people who elect these robots spent many hours in the tent cities. It was a learning experience.”
The lessons continue. The other day, organizers set out to secure Tel Aviv’s main public gathering place, Rabin Square, for a follow-up demonstration. They learned it would cost them about $5,000. “That’s a disgrace,” says Shaffir. “It’s like your right of protest is also privatized.”
So they decided they didn’t need the permission of the very people they were opposing. “We just told everybody we’re going to reoccupy Rothschild,” she says. “It made everybody happy, because we were getting back to the streets.”
— With reporting by Aaron J. Klein / Tel Aviv
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Occupy Wall Street Growing

 

From Tahrir Square to Times Square: Protests Erupt in Over 1,500 Cities Worldwide

Posted Oct. 16, 2011, 1:08 a.m. EST by 

Tens of Thousands in Streets of Times Square, NY

Tens of Thousands Flood the Streets of Global Financial Centers, Capitol Cities and Small Towns to “Occupy Together” Against Wall Street Mid-Town Manhattan Jammed as Marches Converge in Times Square

New York, NY — After triumphing in a standoff with the city over the continued protest of Wall Street at Liberty Square in Manhattan’s financial district, the Occupy Wall Street movement has spread world wide today with demonstrations in over 1,500 cities globally and over 100 US cities from coast to coast. In New York, thousands marched in various protests by trade unions, students, environmentalists, and community groups. As occupiers flocked to Washington Square Park, two dozen participants were arrested at a nearby Citibank while attempting to withdraw their accounts from the global banking giant.

“I am occupying Wall Street because it is my future, my generations’ future, that is at stake,” said Linnea Palmer Paton, 23, a student at New York University. “Inspired by the peaceful occupation of Tahrir Square in Cairo, tonight we are are coming together in Times Square to show the world that the power of the people is an unstoppable force of global change. Today, we are fighting back against the dictators of our country – the Wall Street banks – and we are winning.”

New Yorkers congregated in assemblies organized by borough, and then flooded the subway system en mass to join the movement in Manhattan. A group calling itself Todo Boricua Para Wall Street marched as a Puerto Rican contingent of several hundred playing traditional music and waving the Lares flag, a symbol of resistance to colonial Spain. “Puerto Ricans are the 99% and we will continue to join our brothers and sisters in occupying Wall Street,” said David Galarza Santa, a trade unionist from Sunset Park, Brooklyn. “We are here to stand with all Latinos, who are being scapegoated by the 1%, while it is the bankers who have caused this crisis and the banks who are breaking the law.”

While the spotlight is on New York, “occupy” actions are also happening all across the Midwestern and the Southern United States, from Ashland, Kentucky to Dallas, Texas to Ketchum, Idaho. Four hundred Iowans marched in Des Moines, Iowa Saturday as part of the day of action:

“People are suffering here in Iowa. Family farmers are struggling, students face mounting debt and fewer good jobs, and household incomes are plummeting,” said Judy Lonning a 69-year-old retired public school teacher. “We’re not willing to keep suffering for Wall Street’s sins. People here are waking up and realizing that we can’t just go to the ballot box. We’re building a movement to make our leaders listen.”

Protests filled streets of financial districts from Berlin, to Athens, Auckland to Mumbai, Tokyo to Seoul. In the UK over 3,000 people attempted to occupy the London Stock Exchange. “The financial system benefits a handful of banks at the expense of everyday people,” said Spyro Van Leemnen, a 27-year old public relations agent in London and a core member of the demonstrators. “The same people who are responsible for the recession are getting away with massive bonuses. This is fundamentally unfair and undemocratic.”

In South Africa, about 80 people gathered at the Johannesburg Securities Exchange, Talk Radio 702 reported. Protests continued despite police efforts to declare the gathering illegal. In Taiwan, organizers drew several hundred demonstrators, who mostly sat quietly outside the Taipei World Financial Center, known as Taipei 101.

600 people have begun an occupation of Confederation Park in Ottawa, Canada today to join the global day of action. “I am here today to stand with Indigenous Peoples around the world who are resisting this corrupt global banking system that puts profits before human rights,” said Ben Powless, Mohawk citizen and indigenous youth leader. “Native Peoples are the 99%, and we’ve been resisting the 1% since 1492. We’re marching today for self- determination and dignity against a system that has robbed our lands, poisoned our waters, and oppressed our people for generations. Today we join with those in New York and around the world to say, No More!”

In Australia, about 800 people gathered in Sydney’s central business district, carrying cardboard banners and chanting “Human need, not corporate greed.” Protesters will camp indefinitely “to organize, discuss and build a movement for a different world, not run by the super-rich 1%,” according to a statement on the Occupy Sydney website.

The movement’s success is due in part to the use of online technologies and international social networking. The rapid spread of the protests is a grassroots response to the overwhelming inequalities perpetuated by the global financial system and transnational banks. More actions are expected in the coming weeks, and the Occupation of Liberty Square in Manhattan will continue indefinitely.

Occupy Wall Street is a people powered movement that began on September 17, 2011 in Liberty Square in Manhattan’s Financial District, and has spread to over 100 cities in the United States and actions in over 1,500 cities globally. #OWS is fighting back against the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process, and the role of Wall Street in creating an economic collapse that has caused the greatest recession in generations.The movement is inspired by popular uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, Spain, Greece, Italy and the UK, and aims to expose how the richest 1% of people who are writing the rules of the global economy are imposing an agenda of neoliberalism and economic inequality that is foreclosing our future.