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Where’s Wall Street in Vilnius?

For the past couple of months officials from various countries across the globe had to face an unusual challenge. Mostly young people would gather in public spaces and declare it as occupied. This, so called “Occupy movement”, as of November 17 has spread in 2,609 towns and cities worldwide, according to their meet-up page.

Why is this happening? The movement, which was partly inspired by Arab Spring, has been described as “democratic awakening”, however is difficult to distil to a few demands.

For example, here are a few reasons, which occupiers in Zuccotti Park, New York give. “I’m here to end inequities of our society and use the money for social needs (i.e. jobs, healthcare, education)”, says Ted. “I’m here to protest against the undue influence that corporate America has over our political process”, says Daryl. “This world is corrupt. Maybe we can do something about the evil selfish nature of human race”, says Taylor.

The reasons are quite abstract, as well as their slogans like “We are the 99%” or their signs. For example, in London one could see a sign which said: “Smile if you get what this is about”. And what if I don’t really know why are you occupying my sidewalk?

Many influential analysts in various media outlets, from “The New York Times” or “Al Jazeera” to “The Telegraph” or “Lietuvos Rytas” have been pondering on this topic and seeking an answer to who are these people and what do they want.

Mostly left-leaning publications are in favor of the protestors. They call them “The New Progressive Movement”, which will change our current political dogmas. “The new progressive era will need a fresh and gutsy generation of candidates to seek election victories not through wealthy campaign financiers but through free social media. A new generation of politicians will prove that they can win on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and blog sites, rather than with corporate-financed TV ads”, writes Jeffrey D. Sachs, the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

Matt Taibbi, the “Rolling Stone” political reporter in his article “How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the OWS Protests” gives a very personal experience on the ongoing protests and says that: “Much more than a movement against big banks, they're a rejection of what our society has become”.
Robert Jensen, a professor at the School of Journalism at the University of Texas, Austin in his publication for the “Al Jazeera” suggests that the “Occupy movement’s” demand are much more radical than the current leaders imagine: “The crisis we face is caused by failed systems - replacing leaders while keeping the old system intact will not help.” In other words, he thinks that the occupiers want to change the whole capitalistic system.

A famous Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek holds a similar position, he believes that the current "system has lost its self-evidence, its automatic legitimacy, and now the field is open."

On the other side of the tracks, the right-wing media analysts consider occupiers as a mere interference. They call them hippies, slackers and suggest that instead of protesting and demanding for something they should find a job and make their own fortune. Never mind, that most of the protesters are not unemployed. Maybe the critics suggest that instead of fixing the system, the occupiers should simply manipulate it?

George Monbiot, a political activist from Great Britain in answer to these suggestions wrote: “If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire. The claims that the ultra-rich 1% make for themselves – that they are possessed of unique intelligence or creativity or drive – are examples of the self-attribution fallacy. This means crediting yourself with outcomes for which you weren’t responsible. Many of those who are rich today got there because they were able to capture certain jobs. This capture owes less to talent and intelligence than to a combination of the ruthless exploitation of others and accidents of birth, as such jobs are taken disproportionately by people born in certain places and into certain classes.”

The situation of the “Occupy movement” outside of Lithuania is more or less clear, but what about the occupiers in our homeland? On the October 15th the global call to occupy public spaces across the world in Vilnius ended as a fiasco. Only a couple of marginal and ambiguous political activists have gathered at the Kudirkos square, the initiative was at least comic of not tragic.

However, the “Occupy movement” in Lithuania did not end there. Yesterday, October 17th, a small group of young people (similar to the worldwide trend) have marched across old-town of Vilnius with a sign which said: “They don’t hear you? Occupy Vilnius”. Here’s a video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PIe23KxSUgI. A recently published research by Lithuania’s Statistics Department stated that the one fifth of Lithuania’s residents owns 43% of all revenue, while the gap between the richest and the poorest has grown to 7.3 times.

Social equality and stability are necessary for the democratic societies to flourish. The current situation doesn’t lead there. While sceptics say that human nature is selfish, the idealists suggest that humans are equally capable of altruism. The problem is that capitalistic system rewards greed and not selflessness.

During the history of mankind there were many attempts to change this, from Spartacus and Jesus to this day, but maybe this time can be different and with the help of social networking technology greed will be deflated.

While there is no Wall-Street in Vilnius per se, each of us has more or less of it in our minds. And while you can disagree with the “Occupy movement” or their tactics, at least don’t dismiss them at sight and try to listen and understand them. That is why they are occupying your sidewalk.

EBN reporter Edgaras Savickas