By DEBORAH JONES
VANCOUVER, Canada, October 2011 for Agence France-Presse
Protests against corporate power in the United States 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.
Last 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 September 17.
Tens of thousands of people responded and — perhaps also in response to Adbuster’s suggestion “Bring tent” — stayed.
Other organizations, such as Anonymous, promoted the protest. Soon the mostly-peaceful occupation grew and then, following 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 now 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 October 29 to demand a one percent tax on financial transactions, before the G20 meets in France early next month.
“A one 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,” said Lasn.
“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.”
Adbuster’s 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, said Lasn. “There was something magical about that.”
“But September 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 American economy has become brutal for most people, said Lasn.
“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.”
Lasn described himself in an interview as 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.”
Whether Adbusters can take most of the credit or blame for the protest is not yet clear, said historian Mark Leier of Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, because the moment was right.
“We’ve seen wages and jobs and living standards leak away for 30 years,” said Leier. “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 just 80,000 to 100,000, but draws between 40,000 and 100,000 unique visitors each month to its web site, adbusters.org.
The magazine is a non-profit, and relies on subscription and newsstand sales only and does not take advertising.
Copyright © 2011 Deborah Jones
Originally published by Agence France-Presse on October 6, 2011