Occupy Wall Street is spreading like wildfire. A growing number of people have reached the breaking point and are now engaging in civil protest in pursuit of economic justice.

In this interview, Salon explores how Occupy Wall Street began.

Salon talks to the editor of Adbusters about the practical and philosophical roots of the movement

by Justin Elliott

In July Adbusters, a Vancouver-based publication known for its incisive critiques of capitalism, included a poster in that month’s magazine that read simply:


September 17th. Bring tent.


In response to the call, several loose-knit groups of organizers got involved and hundreds of people showed up on Wall Street on Sept. 17. A few weeks later, Occupy Wall Street is now spreading around the country and attracting intense interest from the media.

I spoke to Adbusters co-founder and editor in chief Kalle Lasn about the practical and ideological origins of the movement and about the continuing debate over its demands. The following transcript of our conversation has been edited for length.

You issued the original call to occupy Wall Street back in July. How did that come about and what was the thinking behind it?

It was a poster that we put in the middle of the July edition of Adbusters magazine and a listserv that we sent out to our 90,000-strong culture-jammers network around the world. It was also a blog post on our website. For the last 20 years, our network has been interested in cultural revolution and just the whole idea of radical transformations.

After Tunisia and Egypt, we were mightily inspired by the fact that a few smart people using Facebook and Twitter can put out calls and suddenly get huge numbers of people to get out into the streets and start giving vent to their anger. And then we keep on looking at the sorry state of the political left in the United States and how the Tea Party is passionately strutting their stuff while the left is sort of hiding somewhere. We felt that there was a real potential for a Tahrir moment in America because a) the political left needs it and b) because people are losing their jobs, people are losing their houses, and young people cannot find a job. We felt that the people who gave us this mess — the financial fraudsters on Wall Street — haven’t even been brought to justice yet. We felt this was the right moment to instigate something.

One Adbusters editor was quoted saying the role of the magazine in this is “philosophical.” Can you define the philosophy behind this?

We are not just inspired by what happened in the Arab Spring recently, we are students of the Situationist movement. Those are the people who gave birth to what many people think was the first global revolution back in 1968 when some uprisings in Paris suddenly inspired uprisings all over the world. All of a sudden universities and cities were exploding. This was done by a small group of people, the Situationists, who were like the philosophical backbone of the movement. One of the key guys was Guy Debord, who wrote “The Society of the Spectacle.” The idea is that if you have a very powerful meme — a very powerful idea — and the moment is ripe, then that is enough to ignite a revolution. This is the background that we come out of.

1968 was more of a cultural kind of revolution. This time I think it’s much more serious. We’re in an economic crisis, an ecological crisis, living in a sort of apocalyptic world, and the young people realize they don’t really have a viable future to look forward to. This movement that’s beginning now could well be the second global revolution that we’ve been dreaming about for the last half a century.

In the original call to action, Adbusters asked that 20,000 flood into lower Manhattan and set up tents. The piece also said:

Once there, we shall incessantly repeat one simple demand in a plurality of voices. Tahrir succeeded in large part because the people of Egypt made a straightforward ultimatum – that Mubarak must go – over and over again until they won. Following this model, what is our equally uncomplicated demand?

I sat in on discussions down in Zuccoti Park where this very issue was being discussed. But obviously there is no single demand yet. Do you think it has developed differently than the vision outlined in Adbusters?

Originally we thought that the idea of one demand was very important. There’s been a debate going on between the one-demand vision and this other vision that is playing itself out right now on Wall Street. I think it’s a wonderful debate and there are good pointers on both sides. Currently this leaderless, demandless movement — that is still growing in leaps and bounds — I think it is fine the way it is. After these assemblies have been conducted and debates have been had in cities all around America, demands will emerge. These demands will be specific things like reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall Act or a 1 percent tax on financial transactions or the banning of high-frequency trading. We will get into specifics, just give us time.

I think this whole thing will stay fairly amorphous through the next big event on Oct. 6 in Washington. Then it will gain global momentum on Oct. 15 when the Europeans have their big moment in the sun. I think the big global catalytic moment may well happen on Nov. 3 or Nov. 4 when the G-20 is meeting in France. In the month following that these demands of ours will emerge and we may well find millions of people marching around the world.

Can you speculate about how these demands will emerge? Do you see leaders or spokespeople emerging? How do you see it playing out as a process?

The political left has always had problems with this. All my life I’ve been sitting in meetings where loony guys get up and talk, and eventually very little happens. This is the kind of weight that is dragging the political left down. We don’t seem to have the clarity of vision that for example the Tea Party has. This may be our undoing again. This whole movement may fizzle out in a bunch of loony lefty kind of bullshit.

Then again, at the same time, I’ve been in daily touch with dozens and dozens of people in cities all around the world who are involved in this. And I have a feeling that because of the Internet and a different kind of mentality that young people have, a horizontal way of thinking about things, this movement may not just come up with some really good demands and put incredible people pressure on our politicians, but a more beautiful thing may come out of this movement: a new model of democracy, a new model of how activism can work, of how the people can have a radical democracy and have some of their demands met. This new model may well be a new kind of a horizontal thing that in some strange way works like the Internet works.

David Graeber, an anthropologist and Adbusters contributor as well as one of the original organizers of the protest, told the Washington Post the other day:

You’re creating a vision of the sort of society you want to have in miniature. And it’s a way of juxtaposing yourself against these powerful, undemocratic forces you’re protesting. If you make demands, you’re saying, in a way, that you’re asking the people in power and the existing institutions to do something different. And one reason people have been hesitant to do that is they see these institutions as the problem.

Isn’t that a fundamentally different model than making one single demand?

This is the deeper level of the debate that is going on within this movement. I think that as this movement grows, it will have room for different things. I think it’s wonderful that people are doing exactly what Graeber describes and providing an example of how a democracy can work, sort of creating a mini-democracy within Zuccoti Park. But that doesn’t stop other people from actually starting to make demands. I don’t see any reason why we can’t have some people who really want a 1 percent Tobin tax and why those people can’t be putting pressure on the G-20 in November while at the same time the people in Zuccoti Park and other cities are providing this inspiring example of real democracy. I don’t think that the two are mutually exclusive.

Justin Elliott is a Salon reporter. Reach him by email at jelliott@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @ElliottJustinMore Justin Elliott

Original post on Salon

51 Responses to “Where Did Occupy Wall Street Come From?”

  1. AND Occupy Wall Street. I’m not saying that you can’t but I’m just wondering what rationale process he went through

  2. kroelli hin says:

    c’mon now.. some intellectual honesty is due. Simmons has a debit card corporation – that’s worse than credit cards – charging you to access YOUR OWN money. the hypocrisy of some of these people is crazy thick.

  3. Meghan Kelly / VentureBeat:
    Anonymous releases private police information in name of Occupy Wall Street  —  Anonymous, a hacker collective that has aligned itself with the Occupy Wall Street protests, leaked information it stole from four police and government websites today.  —  More than 600 MB of data …

  4. Elizabeth Warren On Occupy Wall Street:
    I watched 1 late night on TV spkg at UC Berkeley, she has the data!

  5. mimundehir says:

    BofA says it’s now rethinking its $5/mo debit fee. In other news,the media says Occupy Wall Street lacks coherent message. –

  6. markellavi says:

    so stupid..see how Fox “News” claimed that the Evil Muslims are behind the Occupy Wall Street mvment, skip to 5:15: –

  7. cercoat horn says:

    catch his name. hilarious. Looking at it again the nose and teeth are identical. Why they fix his grill? this world coming to if you get dental working for the Illuminati.

  8. Bloomberg gets tough on Occupy Wall Street : Mayor Bloomberg turned up the tough talk on the Occupy Wall Street …

  9. occupy the “federal” reserve.
    to treat the symptom and ignore the disease is idiocy.
    at the top of the bankster pile is “the fed”
    -figure it out.

  10. Excerpt From the Book This Changes Everything: Occupy Wall Street and the 99% Movement by Sarah van Gelder and the sta

  11. Not the news crews… they have jobs. The ones protesting are the ones living in dumpsters. The next time I want to excercise my First Amendment Rights I will do so in a more organized, unobtrusive fashion. Rather than sleeping in the streets waiting on the next tear gas canister to fall from the sky, I will sit in my office, send an e-mail, make a phone call or two, write a letter or make an appointment when the need arises. easy dodging rubber bullets at work. You should try it.

  12. dacanton boud says:

    This Is Thriller: What Chilean Students Can Teach the Occupy Movement: a new tactic for Occupy Wall Street protesters to consi…

  13. Max Keiser way to go. You never fail to amaze me. Slinky school of economics??!! Ha ha ha…it.s so funny.

  14. stutz shaleja says:

    what is waka flocka doing in a marine uniform or is that gucci mane idk who it is but he needs to calm down

  15. ruboostefa says:

    Charlotte Prepping for Occupy Wall Street at DNC
    BHO & DEMs OWS. Now OWSers serve a NO purpose for DEMs

  16. That is you belief…no evidence whatsoever. Capitalism was always mixed…esp since the industrial revolution. The countries with good mix economy grew and prosper..the ones without (3rd world) is stuck on market principles that make it impossible to move beyond of raw material ect. US would never have become dominant power without extensive govenment interventions in the economy. You have your belief…history proves otherwise thou.

  17. jaquinley zirbiesse says:

    NEW YORK — In celebration of their three-month anniversary, Occupy Wall Street protesters in New York City are gearing up for Occupation 2.0, an attempt…

  18. All of us at OWS occupy wall street are all geared up for the holiday and the new years, the fight is just beginning. We are the 99%

  19. Greeks can never be MAKEDONIANS
    Stop steeling the MAKEDONIAN History

    Viva la Makedonia 4 all Makedonians but never 4 Greeks

  20. kielegawat says:

    wow this is the stupid factor that our forfathers warned us about, these occupiers are traitors ,socialist, commies, and al lookin for a free ride, scarry these people get to vote..take a bath and get a job you lazy bums…

  21. hatsuhidaw dirleswan says:

    really ten thousand children die in car accdents every year in usa how about them or one thousand children drown every year in usa, or 85 thousand die in hospitals from mistakes in usa every year. maybe you should learn whats going on and fight to do some thing

  22. Make this simple so Democrats can understand it. George Soros, Barak’s buddy, is financially the Occupy Wall Street Movement. –

  23. B O O B I E S !!! Topless Girls of Wall Street – Over 1 Million Views of ladies showing Ultimate

  24. rosatterha says:

    Santorum: Romney more of an Occupy Wall Street candidate « Hot Air: Rick Santorum struck a sharper tone on the c…

  25. US Professors Travel To Iran To Discuss Occupy Wall Street Movement | Fox News via OWS MUSLIMS Gov. in U.S. –

  26. muhlenede says:

    > became targets over and over again throughout the year, both in the Middle East and on the streets of New York.”

  27. New York Daily News

    OWS Pair Arrested For Subway Stickers After Police See NY1 NY1
    Two Occupy Wall Street protestors have been arrested after they allowed NY1 to record their subway sticker campaign. Jeffrey Brewer and Aaron Minter were among those who last week covered subway seats with stickers that read, “Priority Seating for the …
    Caught on camera: two OWS protesters busted after recording vandalism for local TVNew York Daily News
    Taped OWS dolts deface the musicNew York Post
    all 30 news articles »

  28. Money paves road to the top – New Zealand Herald: There were some who felt the Occupy Wall Street movement was t.. –

  29. ‘Dark Knight Rises’ Connection To Occupy Wall Street Was ‘Luck’ ‘We couldn’t have planned that. It just of h Via –

  30. that’s almost as hipster as when some kid told me he was “at occupy wall street the day before it got popular”

  31. Occupy Wall Street: Movement Growing in Hong Kong; Returns to NYC …: After a quiet August, Occupy Wall Street …

  32. amarlyn cara says:

    Ahmadinejad set to meet OWS members: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is set to meet with members of the Oc… …

  33. At what point do we cancel out occupy for the sake of humanity! It’s gutless to hinder both a church and family time.

  34. A San Antonio businessman kicked a disabled vet out of his store and told him to “Go occupy Wall Street”: …

  35. He needs to go join the occupy wall street sitters now that he is soon out of a job. Whiners all that are clueless about peace.

  36. corriederl sweekin says:

    Occupy New Zealand
    Shame on the U.S. Govt for treating Occupiers like terrorists. Well the proof is in the… http://t.co/nZ4KEl5Z

  37. gewernowol smincoulty says:

    Trading analysis about Mitt Romney’s loss with the Morning Joe panel today, our own John Heilemann said Romney was, from the beginning, an “unlikely fit” for today’s GOP. “It’s the era of Occupy Wall Street and the tea and you’ve got a guy who represents — more than anything — the … More »

  38. “Occupy Wall Street is capable of summoning an army with the posting of a tweet.” Great piece on Occupy Sandy:

  39. An Occupy Wall Street idea , buying peoples debt from banks and lenders for pennies on the dollar then forgiving it cont’d

  40. muthwittle says:

    Oh so you think Occupy Wall Street scum are “cool”? Tell me again why it’s cool to be a scumball druggie and commit rapes –

  41. nadim my dear. the US itself doesnt stick to its own laws. must i remind u of the violence against sit-ins of occupy wall street

  42. Is Elizabeth Warren the implementer of OCCUPY WALL STREET? Who can we get to speak to IMPLEMENTATION of Occupy’s goals???

  43. Kramer becomes the accidental face of Occupy Wall Street, George gets upset when Jerry won’t give him his new wifi password.

  44. Tweet-le dumb: Occupy Wall Street had a big day when 700 of its enthusiasts got arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge…. –

  45. camuell ther says:

    You might be a liberal if you can pitch a tent as an Occupy Wall street person but cant spend a night alone in the w … –

  46. alhouse bata says:

    ++++ People talk about Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street as if people were just on their computers Tweeting and Sharing.

  47. reisevichs says:

    Behind the Scenes of ’99 Percent: The Occupy Wall Street …: Audrey Ewell and Aaron Aites, the team behind 99 P… –

  48. ‘Occupy Wall Street’ Protests Turn violent’ – ABC News: via مظاهرات امريكا 🙂 ايه الحنيه ده كلها يا ناااااس –

  49. Just realized Shamar is the marine from Occupy Wall Street who shouted down the cops! Him & Michael are my earl …

  50. Whatever happened to that “Grass Roots” group called Occupy Wall Street, seems they all disappeared the day after the election

  51. Energy efficiency company Opower recently mined their data to find that a very small group of people is using way more than their share of energy. It’s been a year-and-a-half since Occupy Wall Street protesters popularized the concept of the 1%– the upper strata of America’s richest, who control a whopping 40% of the nation’s wealth. But on Outlier–the data-crunching blog maintained by energy efficiency company Opower–researchers are drawing attention to a new class of resource hoggers: the top 1% percent of energy-using households who consume 4% of total residential energy. However, the study’s findings aren’t likely to stoke a wave of activism for “redistribution” of energy (the way that growing economic inequality has made the majority of Americans interested in raising taxes on the rich). Opower’s research shows that energy use is not nearly as unevenly distributed as income is. And that means to save energy as a nation, we need to look at approaches that will reduce electricty…

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