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Zuccotti Park -The Ethics of Protest

November 8, 2011

Occupy Wall Street protest in New York and elsewhere is on its 8th week. I am not sure whether we can call it a movement because the goals or even direction of its many participants seemed unclear. What is clear to me is that it is the expression of a general discontent with both the governments (Local, State and Federal), and with corporate America in general.

Some believe it is a very positive development. Jim Lukasewski, a friend and a crisis communication expert says in his blog post entitled: Occupy America: It’s Radical But It’s Necessary, Here’s the Plan that, “the incompetence, ignorance, and political paralysis of government, combined with the implacable gall of America’s Greed Team-real estate, banking, Wall Street, insurance, and the commercial credit industry-has created a fragile but powerful epiphanal moment when real change in America’s economic structure and destiny is possible. And there are people in the streets ready to take some action with some direction.”

Others have a more pessimistic view of the protest but do recognize the legitimacy of their complaints. Chris MacDonald of the University of Toronto’s Clarkson Center for Business Ethics in his article Wall Street Needs to be Fixed, Not Occupied, says: “Issues of corporate ethics are too important to leave to the Occupy Wall Street gang. The principles the group is fighting for are noble ones, but the tools they employ leave much to be desired. It’s up to the rest of us to use better tools.” He believes that although the values of the protesters are right the suggestions they have to implement those values are deeply misguided. He suggests we: “Think. Learn about the issues. Learn about corporate governance. Advocate reform. Organize. Get out the vote.” He concludes his article by saying: “If Occupying Wall Street is to have any real impact it won’t be by motivating a few hundred more people to camp out in the street.”

Protest is a legitimate right in democracies and it also has, in the past played a very important role in establishing democracies and in bringing very positive change to society. Revolutions often started with a massive public protest. With historical hindsight we can determine that some of the outcomes were very positive such as India’s liberation and independence that was initiated by Gandhi’s protest. Others were less than positive, such as the Russian Revolution that brought communism to Russia and much of Eastern Europe or the Iranian revolution that brought a repressing and threatening regime to power. The positive or negative effects of the Arab Spring are yet to be determined.

There are numerous ways to voice a protest but often that is not enough. Protest alone will not bring change.  Ase Grimsby, a Norwegian artist says that we should try to be creative and entrepreneurial in our protest.   She gives the example of KIVA, a micro-lending financial institution. Since its founding in 2005, KIVA has made $255 million worth of loans, (some as small as $25.00) to 659, 0000 individual entrepreneurs, 80% of whom are women. These loans allow them to start or expand a small business. Interestingly, the repayment rate is 98.90%!

There are many such creative examples of positive ways to combat social ills.

We all have a moral obligation to protest against injustice, poverty the repression of human rights and corruption.

As Henry Thoreau once said:

“Evil must be resisted and no moral man can patiently adjust to injustice.”

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