#FloodWallStreet: What Sparked New York’s Latest March?

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Protests in America serve two main purposes. The first is to demand social and political change, drawing attention to an issue through media coverage in the hopes of pressuring parties to take action. The second is less direct, but equally revealing of the national mood, serving as a sort of release valve for anger, concern, or political tension. With unemployment, underemployment, and poverty hitting hard on America’s still-recovering economy, fast-food workers are striking for higher paying wages. The police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson prompted massive demonstrations, as has immigration.

The minimum wage debate in general has drawn opinions from groups all over the United States, partly in response to Congress’s failure to pass a minimum wage bill. Meanwhile, Ferguson saw an explosive reaction by a disillusioned public to the shooting of Michael Brown, which was compounded by built-up anger from years of racial divide and distrust in the community. Immigration protests have broken out multiple times over the past three months, stemming from frustration with Congress’s inability to pass legislation and President Obama’s lack of policymaking.

However, if you ask most Americans what they remember as one of the largest protests in recent history, most would perhaps name the Occupy Wall Street movement that took over much of New York’s financial district in 2011. Like other protests, Occupy Wall Street was a reactionary movement seeking change. Most easily, though perhaps not most accurately, it can be summarized as dissatisfaction with socioeconomic disparity in America — the gap between the rich and the poor, or the 99 percent and the 1 percent. Now Wall Street has a whole new protest on its hands with the recent “Flood Wall Street” movement that’s drawn thousands of activists in protest of climate change and environmental issues.

What brought on the protest?

The interesting thing about the latest protest on the familiar streets of New York is that its impetus is not as direct or daily as poverty, HIV, police discrimination, and a variety of other societal ills. “Stop capitalism. End the Climate Crisis,” says the Flood Wall Street slogan, and climate change is indeed a crisis. In years to come it will destroy food sources, flood cities, demand billions in infrastructure changes and repair, and damage the economy of nations around the world.

But for many, their daily lives are not directly impacted by climate change. It is by its very nature rather slow and creeping. Yes, you could argue that air quality, asthma, and other lung problems could prove a daily stress connected to environmental concerns, and that those who have lost homes and loved ones to natural disasters have lasting and very real impacts they’ve suffered because of global warming. However, these indirect, and not always well understood, results are different from looking at one’s monthly paycheck or facing racial harassment and then becoming politically motivated.

Recognizing future risk and disaster — flooding, in this case — and reacting in large numbers to draw attention to the topic in hopes that something can be done preventatively is a much rarer feat. Not that uncommon, though, given Sunday’s People’s Climate March that took place worldwide across 150 countries, with tens of thousands involved — and 310,000 in New York City alone. Flood Wall Street goes along with this organized demonstration, but narrows its view to a more specific group.

What do protestors want?

This latest march is different from others in that it is looking at the role of the financial and business sector in climate change and is meant to be an act of civil disobedience with greater intent toward arrest and disruption. “This civil resistance, civil disobedience, shows a commitment to the cause,” spokeswoman Leah Hunt-Hendrix told The Huffington Post. “We are trying to escalate this as an urgent issue and show how Wall Street is profiting from the crisis.”

In particular, the movement says that dominant business organizations are “exploiting frontline communities, workers, and natural resources.” This may indeed be the case, but it’s arguable that a political approach might be a more effective one. Placing pressure on businesses only goes so far.

Many already have financial motivation (i.e., carbon emission taxes) to make their business more environmentally friendly, and if they retain some less-than-praiseworthy practices, they’re just as likely to continue positive PR efforts rather than enact real change. Protesting congressional and executive inaction or action on environmental policy is far more likely to produce the desired effect, especially if opinions are raised about specific bills with real-world effects. Businesses are far less at the mercy of protestors who can hardly vote them out of jobs unless people choose to boycott certain products, as protestors did in South Africa (and outside of it) to end apartheid.

Follow Anthea on Twitter @AntheaWSCS

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