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Messages from Occupy Wall Street Via Slogans and Chants from the October 15th March

Occupy Wall Street began one month ago and this Saturday, October 15th, 2011 there were marches in cities all over the world in solidarity with it. I went to the march in Boston and it was an amazing experience. People really want to know exactly what is the protesters’ message. I thought the chants and slogans we shouted during the march are a great place to start:

“We are the 99%!” – This movement’s most distinctive chant. This movement represents the interests of the vast majority of the population. The top 1% in the U.S. has about 50% of the country’s wealth, while the bottom 80% has 20% of the wealth. The wealthiest people and corporations continue to make more money while most everyone else sees less job opportunities, higher prices, reduced wages, and increased debt.

“Banks got bailed out! We got sold out!” – One of the clearest injustices of the last few years is the government bailing out the banks that contributed so much to our economic collapse. Meanwhile the average citizen has suffered the most and gotten little or no help from the government, while the banks make huge profits and raise their fees.

“Show me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!” – This chant is common in many protests. Democracy is about people governing themselves. It will never only be about voting for candidates. But especially now, the point is that people are dissatisfied with how most politicians, regardless of political party, have not represented the interests of the vast majority of the population.

“How do we fix the deficit? End the war and tax the rich!” – The U.S.’s national deficit has been a big topic this year. While politicians contemplated cutting programs that help people, the 99% has other ideas: The people in this movement agree we need to end our unjust wars and stop supporting other militaries around the world. And the rich, people AND corporations, need to be taxed their fair share, instead of getting tax breaks and using tax loopholes to pay less than the average citizen, who has so much less.

“Money for jobs and education, not for war and occupation!” – Again, we need to spend our money on educating people and creating jobs. Bombing and occupying foreign countries directly and through aid to oppressive and aggressive countries is not how we want to spend our money.

“Whose streets? Our streets!” – This one is pretty clear. This is a democracy and the country belongs to all the people, not just the top 1% who have taken control of so much of the country. Furthermore, the 99% has paid the vast majority of taxes which have been used to pay the workers, also part of the 99%, who maintain the streets.

“Off the sidewalk into the street!” – Often the marchers shouted at the onlookers on the sidewalks we passed, or even in restaurants and cars, for people to join us. Again, insisting that this is about them as well and that we need to get off the sidelines and take action.

Just to give you an idea of the sound and feel: these chants are shouted over and over again usually for a few minutes. Many slogans had a call and answer. Someone would shout (sometimes using a bullhorn in Boston where it’s apparently legal but not in New York): “How do we fix the deficit?” And the crowd around them would shout back, “End the war and tax the rich!”

There were also some slight changes to these main slogans and chants. Often people shouted “YOU are the 99%!” instead of “We are the 99%!” Other times after “We are the 99%!” people would shout: “And so are you!” pointing to onlookers around the march. Again, insisting this is about the vast majority of the population.

Democracy Now! reported an inspiring example in New York of a slight change in a chant and the fact that it’s about more than just the protesters. At one point on Saturday, there was a tense moment between protesters and the police in Times Square. But Joseph Esposito, the highest ranking uniformed police officer in the NYPD, told the other police to back off. The tension immediately dissipated. People cheered, said “I love you!” to the police, and shouted: “The police are the 99%!”

The most hostile it got in Boston was when walking down Newbury Street (the most expensive shopping street in Boston), a few, just a few, people shouted: “How do we end the deficit? End the war and EAT the rich!” as opposed to taxing them. In all modesty, I don’t think that’s a very productive or practical proposal. And is not an official stance of the Occupy Boston, Occupy Wall Street, or global occupy movement.

But really, the demonstrations, protests, and marches around the world were all peaceful events with an exception of a few people in Rome vandalizing property (there’s a long history of Vandals in Rome; considering that it went well).

I should say, these are the chants I heard during the Boston marches. I assume the chants were similar in most English speaking cities but definitely leave a comment if I missed any good ones! I’m curious what sort of things people chanted in other countries and languages, as well.

In the end these are just chants and slogans. But I think they give a good indication of the very real, legitimate, and basic grievance upon which all the protesters agree. And I think people are listening, thinking, and talking about these issues more than ever before. There was a lot of support from the people we passed by on the street in Boston and even mainstream media outlets like the New York Times and even Fox News are publishing articles that are sympathetic to Occupy Wall Street and the 99%.

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