Hannah Wolf moved to New York City from Juneau just over five weeks ago, taking her experience with Perseverance Theatre, where she worked for two years, to intern with the Vineyard Theatre’s literary department, an off-Broadway house that produces “Avenue Q” and “[Title of Show].”
To afford living in New York with an unpaid internship, Wolf also nannies and said she is considered lucky to have employment. Wolf is just one of several thousand faces representing the Occupy Wall Street movement on any given day, also known as “99 percenters.”
New York is not the only city to see protests; Anchorage was one of many cities to see dissatisfied citizens gathering in public spaces.
Wolf shared she didn’t hear about the protests until two weeks in; “at the beginning, any media surrounding [the protests] was so suppressed that many people in New York had no idea,” she said.
It was a Facebook post showing the tent city in Liberty Plaza that piqued her interest and spurred her to visit the site, where she found herself in the midst of a general assembly march.
“What really surprised me is how many of the protesters and campers are my age, in a similar situation,” she said.
Wolf describes her demographic as educated, raised on the promise of an “American dream that America can no longer support,” with high unemployment rates and overwhelming debt.
The driving force behind the protests, Wolf said, is frustration. Though she said her demographic is well represented, she describes it as a movement not of one demographic, nor the political left or right, but of “the American people who are angry when they are told that hiring is right around the corner, that the recession is ending and that our elected officials are working for us,” only to find that the government is stalled and unemployment rates persist.
From the outside looking in, it can be difficult to discern the goals of the movement, aside from voicing the anger and frustration participants are feeling. Signs read “I am the 99 percent” or “You have the right to remain silent, but I don’t recommend it.”
Wolf said she is a registered voter who votes in all elections and even volunteered with candidate campaigns in the past, but who doesn’t feel her voice is heard.
“At this point, individual complaints are futile, but the Occupy Wall Street movement has provided a platform where I can feel like I contribute and that my voice means something,” she said. “My issues with government are not my own anymore, but reflect the temperament of the country and my single voice can help with this.”
Wolf provided a list of demands of the movement, which she described as a living document, changing as the movement develops: ending corporate personhood, institution of taxes on stock purchases, nationalized banking, socialized medicine, fully funded government jobs, lifted restrictions on labor organizing, turning foreclosed homes into public housing and investing in green energy infrastructure. The demands are big, but Wolf claims that the voice of the movement is reflective of a general group consensus. Organized labor has recently joined the movement, and Wolf anticipates the protests will be more organized and the goals clearer.
“Fully formed movements don’t just spring up, they have to grow and evolve,” she said.
Wolf said Occupy Wall Street has become a national movement that cannot be ignored. Talking more of her experiences, Wolf said she participated recently in a march that turned violent, though she said that violence was instigated by the New York Police Department.
Like the recent Arab Spring protests, the movement is being propelled by social media; Wolf found out via Facebook, while platforms such as Twitter and Tumblr also keep participants and the general public informed. During general assembly and marches, the energy, anger and excitement are palpable, Wolf said.
Functioning without a permit for a sound system, the thousands have managed to communicate and coordinate using social media and “the people’s mic,” in which a speaker shouts a line and, in waves, the crowd will hear and repeat the phrase so that all can hear.
“We’re watching history unfold,” Wolf said, “This protest is giving hope that something will eventually happen, that someone will listen and we can work together to right the direction of the country.”
She also expresses the old sentiment “seeing is believing” when she describes seeing the amount of people participating.
“If you tell me 14 million Americans are unemployed, I have no context, but when I see thousands of unemployed and angry [people] in one area, it makes that number mean something,” she said.
The Occupy Wall Street movement, which started in New York, has seen similar protests across the country. When asked what she would like to see Alaska take from this movement, Wolf said, “I heard that there is an Occupy Anchorage movement taking place, I’d love to see an Occupy Juneau movement stake a claim in front of the Capitol. Alaska has had it very easy through the economic and unemployment crisis, but I think the other shoe is about to drop. I know that Juneauites are as angry as the rest of the U.S. when it comes to these issues and would support a movement like this. Show the lawmakers that Alaska’s prosperity doesn’t mean that these issues can be slid to the wayside,” she said.
• Contact reporter Melissa Griffiths at 523-2272 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.