From “punk-styled kids” to airline pilots, is Occupy Wall Street the start of something big?

The Occupy Wall Street movement started with a small but growing collection of folks you might expect to be marching on Wall Street. As Jeanne Mansfield recounts for the Boston Review (link here):

The crowd looks like maybe 300 people, mostly punk-styled kids and folks carrying their computers (for live streaming, we found out later) and some aging-hippie types. People are beating drums, blowing whistles, carrying signs, and chanting: “Banks got bailed out, you got sold out!” and “We are the 99 percent!” and “All day, all week, occupy Wall Street!” and of course the classic “This is what democracy looks like!”

The mainstream media largely ignored them. And as this video attests, some presumably well-monied folks considered them an amusing diversion, enjoying a sip of bubbly as they watched the protesters on the streets:

Airline pilots, too

But this movement is gaining steam. The mostly young folks who launched Occupy Wall Street appear to be serving as role models for their elders.

The labor movement is taking note, and mainstream unions now recognize this as a potentially important moment. For example, earlier this week, some 700 uniformed airline pilots staged their own protest over pay and working conditions. Perhaps the fact that “professionals” are now part of this movement may be the reason why even Forbes magazine was moved to cover it (link here):

Hundreds of uniformed pilots, standing in stark contrast to the youthful Occupy Wall Street protesters, staged their own protest outside of Wall Street over the past couple of days, holding signs with the picture of the Hudson river crash asking “What’s a Pilot Worth” and others declaring “Management is Destroying Our Airline.”

Forbes fairly observed that entry-level pay for commercial pilots can be abysmal:

…(P)ilots are among the most dismally paid workers in the country – at least when they start flying.

According to first year pilots make as little as $21,600 a year. Some airlines, such as Southwest, pay more than twice that. On average, starting pay for the major airlines is just above $36,000 a year.

Let’s not forget

The addition of more established players to the scene may give the protests credibility that a bunch of scruffy looking young people could not. But let’s not forget the seeds of anger, resentment, and fear that drove the original protesters to take their message to the locus of America’s wealth.

America’s younger generations face a very uncertain future. The economic meltdown has had a devastating effect on their current employment prospects, and the ripple effects threaten to endure for years, if not decades. They know darn well that they risk being tossed under the bus, economically speaking.

It’s about voice

Paul Crist, an economist, political activist, and fellow board member of Americans for Democratic Action, captured the promise of an emerging movement when he shared these remarks with Facebook friends this morning:

The protests are about to get much bigger! Thanks to NY Transit Workers, SEIU local, United Federation of Teachers, Working Families Party…let’s see the national labor leaders get behind this! The 99% of us who can’t afford a lobbyist WILL BE HEARD!

Yup, it’s about voice. When it comes to peaceful protest about the widening wealth gap and lack of jobs, Americans have been disturbingly quiet and acquiescent in the midst of this crisis. Perhaps Occupy Wall Street, and its welcomed imitators, are on the verge of changing that. As Arun Gupta writes for AlterNet (link here):

They have created a unique opportunity to shift the tides of history in the tradition of other great peaceful occupations, from the sit-down strikes of the 1930s to the lunch-counter sit-ins of the 1960s to the democratic uprisings across the Arab world and Europe today.


Related commentaries, differing perspectives (added Oct. 1)

Michelle Chen, “Labor Movement Rolls Into Wall Street Occupation,” In These Times 

Charles M. Blow, “Hippies and Hipsters Exhale,” New York Times 

Bruce E. Levine, “How Anti-Authoritarians Can Transcend their Sense of Hopelessness and Fight Back,”

Chris Hedges, “The Best Among Us,”


Related posts 

Post-meltdown America: An economic recovery for the wealthy

“It’s no use pretending”

Plutocracy in America: A term for our times

Does it boil down to the rich & powerful vs. the rest of us?

4 responses

  1. Here in Boston, police are visible and sound of helicopters can be heard, in apparent anticipation over a march on the city’s business district.

  2. I did hear about this on “left” radio. Thanks for covering this David. As long as workers in America are not fighting back they will be victimized. We need to have a recovery from being victims. That means taking actions like this and others. Too many citizens are believing the lies being told about why work is drying up in this country. The media needs to help shine a light on this. Workers need to believe they can make a difference. People really do have more power than they think. Wisconsin and Ohio working people started it this year. We can all have much hope that the young people will lead us like they did during the Vietnam war. This is a war with our own politicians making policy that was against our own interests as that war was. People need to vote their own interests and media needs to cover the truth. Too much of the media is now owned by the corporations and is no longer free press.

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