Despite revolutionary strides made over the past several decades, humanity’s penchant for protest has not wavered. Most recently, a popular movement was born in the United States: the “Occupy” movement. It initially began in Sept.ember 2011 in New York City, when citizens protested corruption on Wall Street, and has since spread nationwide, sprouting Occupy movements across the country. Coining the slogan, “We are the 99 percent,” the group takes opposition to many issues facing the country, specifically with regard to economics.
“It’s largely trying to confront and draw attention to our issues,” said Hans Barbe, a leader of the Occupy Detroit movement. “Be it foreclosure, environmental things - be it poverty, as part of a system. One of our early slogans that kind of made its way up was ‘It’s not one thing, it’s everything.’”
“Part of what it tries to embody is this idea of people power and collective power, and really the way it operates,” Barbe said. “Most business or other structures of government are based on hierarchy; they have more sway in decision-making power over the people at the bottom … They are making decisions that are affecting us and we have very little, or no, say in it.”
According to Barbe, hierarchies don’t work, which is where the 99 percent comes into play. The movement’s main goal is to reclaim the idea that the people should have control over certain governmental decisions that affect them in ways that cannot be empathized by the extremely wealthy.
“Foreclosure is something that the Occupy movement really gravitated around,” Barbe, who is directly involved with the financial sector of the movement, said. “A basic necessity of life is your home. You need shelter, and there is a system that says if you don’t make these payments we have to kick you out of your house. You are being kicked out on the basis that you owe four times what your house is even worth. With Occupy Detroit we’ve done a little over a dozen home foreclosure fights and we’ve won.
“When Occupy Wall Street started, it took about a month—less than a month, actually—before it resonated and got attention around the country, and Detroit was one of the cities that wanted to show solidarity with Occupy Wall Street,” Barbe said. “That is kind of how it started. Our first assembly was at the Spirit of Hope Church. That had about 1,000 people, the church actually overflowed and we had to go outside ... We remained as a network, now ... We meet at 1515 Broadway every Saturday.”
According to owner Chris Jaszczak, 1515 Broadway is a studio and a meeting place, as well as a café and bodega, where people can hold meetings and work together toward their common interests.
Jaszczak is no stranger to movements like this, and he says that he welcomes the movement using his space for their meetings. Jaszczak was in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War and one of the founding members of the Detroit chapter of the Vietnam Vet Against War, he has been a progressive person his whole life.
“So this was a natural thing, and anybody that knows 1515, this is our 25th year, there is an established identity,” Jaszczak said. “I’m known as a progressive person and this is known as a progressive place.”
Jaszczak said history has shown that political protesting is not a fad or a phase, because it goes all the way back to the 1300s with the Peasants’ Revolt.
“I think you can go all the way back to the 1300s and the peasants’ rebellion,” he said. “There have been common denominators that have always existed that are relevant now as they were in the late 1300s.”
According to both Barbe and Jaszczak, the 1960s protest structure and the modern era of protesting do share some common threads, but they also differ in many ways - namely, that most protests were more localized in previous decades than they are now. A similarity they share is that both types of movements were concernced with inequality. The 1960s dealt predominantly with racial and minority issues, while the more recent issues focus on monetary inequality and power imbalance.
“When you talk about the ‘60s, the war obviously was a big overriding thing that affected everybody, but the 60s was more about civil rights in a lot of ways,” Jaszczak said. I think that the Occupy movement deals with equality and economics, and they have broken up into more focused groups.”
“There are definitely strains of influence, kind of building power, finding pressure points, and exerting power on those pressure points to meet those demands. I think what makes it different from the ‘60s especially is the introduction of technology. Also sort of this emerging global awareness,” said Barbe.
In the last decade, the world has become increasingly smaller through the evolution of technology, which has helped these movements become what they are today. In the last five years, there have been protests in Iran, Egypt, and Spain, to name a few. This is what separates the current generation’s protest from those throughout recent history.
Barbe also said that they have to take the imagery of the older protests to help in their fight for their cause.
“The ‘60s, the imagery of it, at the very least of people in the streets standing up for themselves - we definitely take from that.”