Occupy Wall Street


Add a laugh track to the movement for income equity & social justice | 

Many, if not most, of the stories and news reports on Humanosphere are about inequity — the global gap between the lives lived by the world’s rich and poor. But this gap is growing here at home as well, making people angry and perhaps threatening to undermine the global push for equity.

People are right to be angry and worried, says guest columnist Nathan Furukawa, an MD-MPH student at the UW, but humor can be more effective than moral outrage. Here is Furukawa’s case for adding a laugh track to the protest movement.


By Nathan Furukawa, guest columnist

Many Americans are outraged at the growing income inequality they see around them. They should be, since this is bleeding our chances in a consumer-driven economy for lasting economic recovery.

Congressional Budget Office

Growth in Income Inequality

In 2010, 93% of additional income created that year went to the top 1%. This represents an average income increase for the richest one percent of $105,637 and an outrageous $4.2 million increase in income for the richest one-tenth of one percent. How much did earnings rise for the bottom 99%? $80 on average.

This imbalance translates into mounting personal debt, lost opportunity and worse health for those stuck in poverty or teetering on the brink. Yet, according to a December Gallup survey, only 17% of Americans think reducing the income and wealth gap between the rich and poor is extremely important.

The lesson here appears to be that shouting about how unfair life has become is not a compelling message.

Occupy Wall Street’s attempted Mayday protest and reboot resulting in poor turnouts, acts of violence and property destruction — and loss of public support.

Flickr, Gunnsi

So maybe it’s time to try humor.

Humor is an often overlooked and powerful tool for raising awareness and stimulating action. Laughter can spread messages rapidly and make civil disobedience accessible, fun, and trendy.

For example, look at the the youth protests in Chile last summer which motivated over 500,000 students to demand affordable secondary and higher education.

The broad support for the movement originated from campaigns aimed at organizing events that blended defiance with entertainment such as ‘Kiss-Ins’, where students locked lips in front of the presidential palace for 1,800 seconds to symbolize the $1.8 billion needed to finance public education.

In another event, students donned zombie attire and performed 1,800 relay laps around the palace to the tune of “Thriller”, a tribute to the viral Filipino prison rendition. By December, the Chilean students had turned the government on its head and made educational reform the top priority for lawmakers. Continue reading

UW student activist calls on Millennials to be less dreamy, more political | 

Dean Chahim is a student of Civil & Environmental Engineering and International Development & Social Change at the University of Washington. Chahim co-founded and facilitates the Critical Development Forum, which is having one of its informal forums later today on the issue of climate change.

This is a guest post and the views expressed here are Chahim’s, in case you needed to be told that.


Dean Chahim

A UW student at an Occupy Seattle event asks for less hope, more action

There is the social and political movement of Occupy Wall Street. The Arab Spring. And then there is Seattle’s exploding ‘humanitarian’ community. These are all driven, in part or maybe largely, by the younger generation’s desire for change – for a better world.

At the University of Washington, it’s impossible to miss what’s happening. The youth movement for change operates under many banners and goes by many names: development, humanitarian, philanthropic, global health, global service, social entrepreneurship. Here on Humanosphere, this has been described as a key feature of my “Millennial” generation.

New student-run NGOs seem to start here every week. Information sessions pack in students by the dozen. Flyers litter campus for the latest two-week trip to empower African villagers, help with sustainable projects, and oh yes, see a few waterfalls. They seek to work miracles, changing communities forever “in just five days.”

In between volunteer trips, they might send shoes to the Dominican Republic or bras to Nigeria. Yes, bras. Gently used bras.

There is no denying that some of the work they do has real benefits in the short-term for the poor and marginalized globally. But I would argue that many of these well-intentioned efforts don’t have much impact – and that they distract from the most powerful means to fight poverty and inequity, disease and suffering.


I’m concerned that the way we frame our discussion around these efforts is actually stunting my generation’s view of social change. We dream of helping “one village at a time” through service overseas when, arguably, we could help many millions more through political activism here at home. Continue reading

Tracking the Occupy movement in Seattle and around the globe | 

The movement “Occupy Wall Street” clearly has gone global, even as many in the movement — and, to some extent, the mainstream media — struggle to clearly define its mission and message. As organizers told USA Today, public demonstrations allow for lots of freedom of expression.

So it can be dangerous to try to define the now-global “Occupy” movement. It doesn’t seem to just be about Wall Street anymore. Is it political, or more accurately a rejection of politics? Will this be the Western World’s Arab Spring (leading to dramatic change across many countries)? Or more limited in its impact, like the Seattle WTO protests of 1999?

Nobody knows. Here at Humanosphere, we keep a daily watch on efforts to fight global inequity, poverty, injustice and the diseases of the poor. Whether it’s Occupy Seattle, Occupy Vancouver, or any of the smaller Occupy protests — they are each one moon of many orbiting what appears to be a rapidly growing constellation of moral outrage. We’ve got our telescopes out (using the “Storify” tool below to follow what others are saying): Continue reading