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Occupy Wall Street: Should We Care?

Originally posted: November 18, 2011 on TrishMcFarlane.com

I was in New York City earlier this week to speak at The Conference Board‘s Senior HR Executive conference.  New York City never ceases to amaze me in regard to the types of events you can attend and things you can see in a very small radius.

The hotel was situated in lower Manhattan, one short block from Ground Zero and the new 9/11 Memorial.  Across the street was the Canstruction exhibit which was well worth my time.  It was also just one more block over to Zuccotti Park where Occupy Wall Street protest was in full swing.  I’ll write more about the 9/11 Memorial and Canstruction  later.  Today, my mind is on Occupy Wall Street.

You can’t turn on the news lately without hearing about the Occupy movement in various cities across our country.  Even here in St. Louis, protestors are camping out and marching to block traffic on major bridges into the city.  It is certainly starting to disrupt things.  But, seeing the NYC protest up close made it much more personal.

My curiosity was around the specifics of what the group is protesting.  I had a general understanding of the major issues around lack of jobs, the economy, the greed of banks and corporate executives and the general distrust and unhappiness with our federal government.  Those are issues that many American’s can relate to as current stressors in our lives.  I was hoping to gain a better understanding of specifically what is the group protesting.

Protest and Civil Unrest

I approached the park and was immediately struck with surprise about the sheer number of NYC police on the scene.  They  were a sea of blue and it was nearly impossible to determine how to get closer to the actual protest.  I picked my way through the crowd and followed the voices that were rising and falling in unison.  As I approached the front of the park, I could see barricades up and protestors packed tightly into the space.  There were also many lingering around the perimiter with signs against the government and against the police treatment they have been receiving. 

The Occupy leaders were using a “human megaphone” approach to verbally reach the thousands of people gathered.  (Click through to watch a video that demonstrates their tactic.)  One leader would shout out his or her thought, then a circle 3- 4 people deep would turn out to the crowd and repeat the message.  People in that circle would then turn out to the crowd and repeat the message, and so on.  This was an effective way to cascade the message like a wave through the crowd and out to the perimeter.  Some protesters were technologically savvy and had smart phones and iPads where they were checking in on FourSquare and communicating on Twitter and FaceBook.  Others clearly did not have those luxuries.

Disappointingly, I did not walk away with greater insight into their plight.  They may have passion around their cause but are not taking advantage of getting their message out in a way so that we can truly understand.  And just yesterday morning, they began blocking streets and subway exits which caused many to be arrested.  This too just clouds the message and makes them appear less like the 99% they are claiming to be.

My Take Away

I will always support free speech and the ability to state your opinions.  I can’t condone trying to step on other people’s rights though, nor do I support the way they seem to be disrupting things now that could cause harm to other people in the city who are just trying to get to work and do the job they have to do.

The question in my mind is how can you protest not having enough jobs when every HR and recruiting professional say we all have jobs to fill?  There are hundreds of thousands of jobs going unfilled and why?  Because people are not willing to do many of them because they think those jobs are beneath them.  I sympathize with people who are laid off from their job because I have been in that situation before.  So has my husband.  We worked hard to continue building our skills and searching for work and it paid off.  That is not luck.  It was work. I’d like to see more unemployed workers be willing to take jobs they might not normally do and still be able to contribute to their family and community.

So, what do you think about this?  Are you following the Occupy Wall Street movement and do you care?  Do you feel passionately one way or the other?  Share in the comments because I’d like to know how other professionals are seeing the movement and whether or not it’s impacting business decisions you, or your leaders, are making.

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