Protests against corporate power in the US began in the basement of an old house in Vancouver, behind massive trees, down wooden stairs, past a box of soup cans for recycling, at the world headquarters of Adbusters magazine.
In July, the counter-culture magazine, known for campaigns like “buy nothing day,” printed a poster calling on activists to occupy Wall Street in New York on Sept. 17.
Tens of thousands of people responded and — perhaps also in response to Adbuster’s suggestion “Bring tent” — stayed.
The mostly peaceful occupation has since grown and, after the arrests of more than 1,000 people by New York police, spread to cities elsewhere in North America.
On Thursday, it took root in Washington, with several hundred people occupying Freedom Plaza outside city hall to demand progressive reform. In New York, meanwhile, the Occupy Wall Street movement drew more than 5,000 people as well as labor-union support.
Adbusters founder and editor Kalle Lasn said the magazine hopes to expand the protest globally — and for the first time aim it at a more specific message than the protester’s unfocused anger at the ultra-rich, corporations and governments.
Lasn is calling for a massive protest by 50 million people on Oct. 29 to demand a 1 percent tax on financial transactions, before the G20 meets in France early next month.
“A 1 percent Robin Hood tax on all financial transactions and currency trades would slow down fast money, and it will have a major impetus on the global economy,” Lasn said. “At the moment, [the protests] are messy, nothing clear is coming out of it, it’s not yet transforming itself into a positive program of social and political change ... we are trying to create a big moment, a global moment.”
Adbusters’ campaign started with a centerfold poster of a ballerina dancing gracefully on the iconic Wall Street sculpture of a bull, made to appear as though the beast is charging at the front of a riot.
The poster captured people’s imagination, Lasn said.
“There was something magical about that,” he said.
“But Sept. 17 was absolutely the right moment because of the anger and the rage that was welling up in America,” he said. “People were losing their jobs and their houses. Almost 40 percent of young Americans can’t find a decent job. Meantime, fat cats or financial fraudsters on Wall Street are sitting pretty up on the 17th floor and still getting their big bonuses.”
The US economy has become brutal for most people, Lasn said.
“For a while, we all believed these Harvard economists who were coming up and saying everything will be fine. Then all of a sudden, when America was downgraded [by a credit agency] and the troubles started in Europe [with the sovereign debt crisis], you didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize something much more ominous was happening here,” he said.
Lasn said he was the “ringleader,” but shied away from taking credit for the protests.
“Anybody could have done that. The real people who are driving it are the young people on the street,” he said.
Simon Fraser University history professor Mark Leier said Adbusters struck at just the right moment.
“We’ve seen wages and jobs and living standards leak away for 30 years,” Leier said. “Entire generations have been told to suck it up, believe in the market, trust the old political parties, and have received little in return. The anger and frustration were entirely predictable.”
Adbusters, which Lasn founded with fellow documentary filmmaker Bill Schmalz in 1989, has an international circulation of between 80,000 and 100,000, and draws between 40,000 and 100,000 unique visitors each month to its Web site, adbusters.org.
The magazine relies on subscription and newsstand sales only and does not take advertising.
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