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Occupy Wall Street protester Many New York City protesters demonstrate near City Hall during the day and sleep in tents in nearby Zuccotti Park at night.
(Frank Franklin II / AP Images)

What Is Occupy Wall Street?

A protest that started in New York City is spreading around the world. Who are the protesters and what do they want?

By Natalie Smith | November 2 , 2011
<p>The Occupy protests have spread to more than 100 American cities. <br />(Alex Fradkin / Redux)</p>

The Occupy protests have spread to more than 100 American cities.
(Alex Fradkin / Redux)

It started small, with about 1,000 protesters. The group gathered on September 17 near Wall Street in New York City. That’s the area where many of the biggest U.S. banks and financial companies have their headquarters. Now, almost seven weeks later, the protest, known as Occupy Wall Street, is a worldwide movement. The Occupy protests have spread to more than 1,500 cities around the world, including more than 100 U.S. cities.

Exactly what are people protesting? Around the globe, protesters have expressed different concerns, but most of their complaints have a common thread: the tough financial times and who is to blame for them. One of the biggest issues is the growing gap between the rich and the poor. The richest 1 percent of Americans earn nearly 25 percent of all U.S. income, according to a recent study. The Occupy protesters argue that large companies like those on Wall Street are making too much money while millions of Americans are struggling just to put food on the table. The protesters say they want average Americans to have more job opportunities and share in companies’ prosperity. They want their voices to be heard.

“The hope . . . is to show that through nonviolent protest, we can change this country,” says Alec Courtney. The 21-year-old from Brooklyn, New York, is out of work. “People can change. The government can change,” he adds.

The New York protesters come from all walks of life—from teens to retired workers. Many of them are college students or recent graduates without jobs. Others are workers who simply feel as if they will never get ahead. Their frustrations are shared by demonstrators throughout the country—and in other countries too.

But not everyone supports the movement. Many people have criticized the movement, saying the message of Occupy Wall Street isn’t clear. They also point out that the protesters have failed to offer solutions to the problems or to make specific demands.

The criticism hasn’t stopped the movement, though. The protesters say they’re here to stay.

“[The point is] to get the word out, start a movement,” says 18-year-old Spirit Fox, a high school student from New York. “I think this is the beginning.”

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