Wall Street Protests Spread To Other Cities

Street protests ostensibly against corporate America, which began in New York two weeks ago, have spread to Los Angles, Boston, Chicago, Denver and beyond. Frustration among the demonstrators is palpable, but their demands are less clear. Melissa Block speaks with protest participants about what brought them out.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host: As we just heard, the protests in New York have spread to cities across the country. And we're going to talk with two protesters now about what's motivating them, and what they want to achieve.

Jason Potteiger is 25, a recent college graduate. He's unemployed, and he joins us from Boston. Jason, welcome to the program.

JASON POTTEIGER: Hi. How are you?

BLOCK: Good, thanks. And Sam Abrahamson(ph) is 21. He's in college at DePaul, majoring in advertising. He joins me from Chicago. Sam, welcome to you.

SAM ABRAHAMSON: Hi. Thank you.

BLOCK: I want to ask both of you what this is all about. What do you want out of these protests? What are you fighting for - Jason?

POTTEIGER: Well, for me personally, it's about, in fact, that when I look around to other people in my generation, we're really uncertain about what the future holds. We want to start families or start our careers, or even pay our college loans. What's happening in this country, it's becoming painfully clear that this is something that really affects our generation in a big way. And I felt like I really just had to come out.

BLOCK: Sam, what about you? You're out there in Chicago;what's the message that you're trying to convey?

ABRAHAMSON: You know, I came out here, essentially, because I'm sick of the apathy that seems to be pervading through my generation. Just like Jason, I'm worried about paying off all this debt that I'm racking up from college. So one of the things that I'm hoping to accomplish from these protests is to get some financial reforms, that we can have support for people like myself who are in the middle class, who are not going to have the ability to pay these loans off by themselves.

And so if we have this wealthy minority constantly swinging the conversation these days, we're not going to really get anything done. And so before we even have a dialogue about what needs to get done, we need to make sure that everyone's voice is being heard.

BLOCK: You know, we've been hearing about the lack of a coherent, organizing message coming out of these protests. And I'm looking at the - sort of the manifesto that was issued from the folks in Occupy Wall Stree. And it's a list of about two dozen, what they call statements of fact, that they're complaining about: poisoning the food supply, the cruel treatment of countless nonhuman animals, the perpetuation of colonialism at home and abroad. It's a whole range of things. And it says these grievances are not all inclusive.

Do you think you'd be better served by having an organizing principle around what you're asking for as opposed to a whole lot of demands or inchoate thoughts? Jason, what do you think?

POTTEIGER: Well, first, I thought that that document was pretty beautifully written. In Boston, we are wrestling with that issue on a daily basis. But we've also really committed to having a very democratic process within our protest - within the encampment, as we call it. And in doing so, we've come to realize that we all come here with a variety of different issues that mean a lot to us.

And so we've been trying to say, well, what was the thing that really brought us here? And a lot of that was the fact that 1 percent of Americans control 50 percent of America's wealth, and they're using that wealth to undermine the democratic process right now. So a lot of this is focused on economic reform.

BLOCK: And Sam, do you think there is a risk, or a danger, that if you don't coalesce around one or two or a few demands, that maybe this movement really has no long-term effect? People may feel good that they were out there and that they did something but in the end, maybe you don't go home with much.

ABRAHAMSON: Well, I think that if you don't have a message, then yeah, eventually things will start to kind of fade out. Everyone will just protest themselves out and go back to business as usual. But we are starting to see these common threads here, the fact that there is a very wealthy minority in this country, the wealthiest 1 percent, who has more say in our political process than the other 99 percent. And everyone is angry about that, despite other differences.

BLOCK: And Jason, give me some examples, if you could, of the ways that the economic imbalance that you're talking about, you think are dangerous to the country or undermining the country in some way.

POTTEIGER: Well, I think a great example is the fact that, you know, a corporation doesn't really even have to give either candidate any money to start undermining the process these days. What's to stop a lobbyist from going up to a congressman or a senator and saying, if you don't vote the way we want you to, we're going to spend $10 million in your district running ads against you.

I think one thing that we've been talking about a lot in Boston is the fact this is not necessarily anti-capitalism, and that this isn't anti-wealth. And so, you know, we've found that some people who are just wealthy might be a little alienated by our movement. And so we've been sort of actively trying to reach out to them and say that, you know, it's not that we have anything against wealth, and it's not that we have anything against capitalism. We just want to make sure that our democracy is functioning the way that it's supposed to function.

BLOCK: Jason and Sam, thanks very much for talking with us today.

ABRAHAMSON: All right. Thank you.

POTTEIGER: Thanks.

BLOCK: I've been talking with Jason Potteiger in Boston, and Sam Abrahamson in Chicago. They're taking part in protests that follow the same model as Occupy Wall Street in New York City.

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