By Katherine Tarbox, Senior Editor, REALTOR® Magazine
The “Occupy” movement on Wall Street and in cities around the country (and throughout the world) has drawn people with a wide range of grievances—signage shows protesters demonstrating against war, immigration policy, high unemployment, income inequality, corporate lobbying, and a host of other issues. At a recent visit to Occupy D.C., however, I saw two key areas of focus emerging: the high cost of education and the housing crisis.
Occupy D.C. protests are centered in McPherson Square park, about two blocks from the White House and less than two miles from the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®’ D.C. building. A recent Huffington Post story estimated there were 120 tents, plus administrative facilities (a first aid tent, a meal area, a media tent, and so on). The group has a permit to occupy the park for eight months, according to one organizer who asked not to be named.
It’s a surprisingly well organized effort. There’s a daily schedule of events that starts with brainstorming sessions at 11 a.m. and ends with a general assembly at 6 p.m. In between is a sometimes incongruous mix of activities, including newcomer orientations and Tai Chi classes. (Saturday, a pumpkin carving party is planned.) Punctuating these activities are protest marches on various topics. Organizers are now planning a march, scheduled for Friday, to protest the student debt burden. Next week’s march focuses on affordable housing.
I talked with a group of protesters camped out near K Street who called themselves “the foreclosure group.” Their stories are familiar; they say they were bulldozed into mortgages they couldn’t afford. Since facing foreclosures, they say, they’ve felt like social outcasts; joining Occupy D.C. has given them back the feeling of being part of a community.
But while the protests are giving a sense of community and a voice to the disenfranchised, few of the people camped out at McPherson Square could articulate what they hoped to achieve. One recent college grad I spoke with said simply, “There are huge problems, and we’re not going to leave until the problems are fixed.” For now, he said, he’d rather be protesting than job hunting. “What job is there for me to get?” he asked.
Media attention is growing. Thousands of protesters are showing up at events both inside and outside the United States, and an “Occupied” Web site was recently launched to report on OWS activities around the globe. What’s your take on Occupy Wall Street and specifically on the message of the foreclosure protesters in McPherson Square and elsewhere?