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Occupy the Earth

It’s not every day that you see a “stop police brutality” sign coupled with signs about protecting the environment, but that was the scene I came upon last week while attending an Occupy Oakland.

If you’ve been paying any attention to the Occupy Wall Street movement that now spans100 U.S. cities, you know that many Americans are tired of corporate greed and government ineptitude. Though there’s no central voice for this people-powered movement, one recurring theme is the backlash against unregulated big businesses. Wall Street bankers are obvious targets, but the public’s aggravation extends further to corporate entities that put profit above people and the environment.

Among the many grievances that have driven people to occupy their city’s ports, roads and public spaces is the ability for businesses to trash the environment and our health without impunity and often with governmental help.  Take, for example, our congressional leaders’ recent decision to vote against cleaning up coal-fired power plants, which would prevent up to 51,000 premature deaths and generate $420 billion in economic benefits every year. One sign that I saw during the recent Occupy Oakland movement summed up the problem with this strategy well:

Another protester’s sign spoke to the Keystone XL boondoggle—a 1,711-mile proposed pipeline that would transport tar sands crude oil from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast. The pipeline is a bad idea on so many levels that it’s hard to pick just one reason for protesting against it, but what’s gotten the occupiers and eco activist Bill McKibben particularly riled up is the blatant favoritism that the State Department has shown towards the company that wants to build the pipeline. McKibben addressed this issue at an Occupy Wall Street rally, arguing that the reason why the U.S. can’t seem to do anything about global warming is not because the people don’t want to clean up the environment. It’s because big companies like Exxon, which profit enormously from a lack of carbon regulation, prevent us from doing so.

A third sign spoke to America’s frustration with allowing biotechnology companies like Monsanto to create crops that increase pesticide use, create superweeds and contaminate non-genetically modified crops, all without oversight or even proper labeling: 

Though everyone’s reasons for participating in the Occupy movement vary widely—which speaks to the diversity of the movement itself—the overall sentiment is one of collective understanding that the 99 percent cannot continue on a path where a small percentage of the population takes more than its fair share. It's simply unsustainable. On my way out I saw one final sign that couldn’t have summed up this perception more eloquently: