Occupy Wall Street Demands the Voice of 99 Percent Be Heard

Working on hunger and poverty issues every day, it is easy to feel like I’m going crazy. 

I have been hearing people’s struggles every day since 2008. Strangers have cried on the phone to me, worrying aloud about how they will feed themselves and their families. The America that I hear about has not been reflected in the news; instead, the deficit, stock market returns, and our jobless "recovery" have dominated. Amidst all the talks of austerity and entitlement, millions of Americans have suffered silently and valiantly — until Occupy Wall Street began.

Whatever you can say about its effectiveness, what cannot be denied is that Occupy Wall Street has hit a deep nerve that is throbbing through our nation. While it took days for mainstream media to cover its rapid expansion, everyday folks started to propel its message through social media, most notably on a blog called We Are the 99 Percent. With incredible candor, people are posting their stories in excruciating detail, the kind of detail that makes your heart pinch in agony.

For me, while these pangs are familiar — I have been experiencing them for the past three years through my work — I still could not help but cry. These are photos of people who have seen their lives destroyed. Their stories hit hard: the veteran listing his comrades’ deaths, a single father trying to keep his daughter alive, the young college dropout providing for her entire family, the man selling his body to pay for rent, and hundreds of others just trying to get by. Their message is one of solidarity with the protestors on the streets, even if those posting on the blog do not have the means to physically join the protests.

With over 500 stories and counting, it is hard to write off their experiences as individual circumstances or isolated situations. This is the power of collective story-telling — it is something the media cannot control nor the pundits deny, spreading virally thanks to social media. This collective story-telling has transformed a protest into a movement. If you scroll through these stories, underneath that pain is a clear sense of dignity. To me, it is a sign that we are not crazy — that we do not have a distorted view of our economic reality or that we are advocating "class warfare." Too many Americans live this truth every day, and Occupy Wall Street is a wake-up call that resonates across the country.

The instant connectivity of the internet has been so crucial during this past year for various social upheavals, from the Arab Spring to the Wisconsin protests. While we do not know where Occupy Wall Street will go, its growing mass of online (and offline) supporters makes one thing clear: people are finding new ways to make their voices heard and won’t be stopping any time soon.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Ecaterina Burton

Ecaterina Burton currently works at the Alameda County Community Food Bank in Oakland, California, as the Advocacy and Education Associate. Her work is part policy work and part community organizing. Having grown up in the military and lived across the world, Ecaterina has witnessed firsthand the gross socioeconomic inequalities that cause millions of people to live in poverty and go hungry. After graduating from Harvard University with a BA in Psychology, Ecaterina has spent several years working directly with everyday people who are fighting to create a more just world for their children and others. Due to her work, she is passionate about issues of poverty, hunger, food justice, environmental racism, social justice, gender/race politics and feminism. When she has free time, she finds herself gravitating between rock climbing and cooking grub.

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