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Occupy Wall Street: Tahrir Over Here?

Yahoo blocked emails related to the ongoing protests on Wall Street. Meanwhile, attendees have been dealing with another problem: American protest rallies rely on mass media, not social media.

Just a few blocks away from Fast Company's NYC offices, hundreds of protestors have staged a demonstration under the banner Occupy Wall Street, which is loosely affiliated with Anonymous and Adbusters magazine. They're recreating the tactics used by Egyptian and Tunisian revolutionaries and, in the organizers' words, "us[ing] the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic of mass occupation to restore democracy in America." There's only one problem: If you sent an email about Occupy Wall Street via Yahoo, the recipient probably didn't get it.

Starting this previous weekend, emails sent by Yahoo users that contained a link to were immediately blocked and the following error message appeared:

Your message was not sent

Suspicious activity has been detected on your account. To protect your account and our users, your message has not been sent.

If this error continues, please contact Yahoo! Customer Care for further help. We apologize for the inconvenience.

According to Lee Fang of ThinkProgress, emails containing links to other activist websites such as the right-leaning and were not blocked. Yahoo themselves admitted that emails containing links to Occupy Wall Street's site were blocked. In a Twitter update, they said it was "not intentional" and that the issue may be resolved. Users, however, might have "residual delays" in sending Occupy Wall Street-related emails.


Yahoo's email blocks may have been unintentional, but they looked remarkably similar to Egyptian censorship methods. Occupy Wall Street's non-organizers (the protest stresses its non-hierarchial nature) should be proud. In this one respect, Yahoo recreated Tahrir perfectly. Fast Company previously reported on the Mubarak government's efforts to censor discussion of Tahrir via social media.

Other email and social media services do not appear to be censoring conversation related to Occupy Wall Street. An unfounded rumor that Twitter was censoring content turned out to be false, both Gmail and Google+ are being used and Facebook contains a wealth of Occupy Wall Street-related content.

The non-organizers of Occupy Wall Street face a much more serious problem: A combination of low turnout and allegations of police brutality. While New York police officers took a lassiez-faire approach over the weekend to the protesters, new video has surfaced showing the NYPD seemingly violently assaulting protesters who were required to move a tent.

Meanwhile, despite the universal appeal of a protest for Wall Street to change its ways, attendees at Occupy Wall Street appear to mainly consist of professional left-wing activists and Anonymous-affiliated young people. The United States is not Egypt or Tunisia, and what the sociologists call "structural factors" are, in the U.S.A., totally different. America has one of the most vibrant civil societies in the world, with NGOs and interest groups for every conceivable cause. Politically engaged activists face surveillance at worst instead of the jail and police torture of the Maghreb. The unemployed are offered extensive government assistance that dulls anger at a sky-high unemployment rate. Easy access for nearly all economic classes to the Internet, video games, satellite television, and a million other distractions helps distract from discontent.

Most importantly, nearly all successful mass demonstrations and gatherings of recent years in the United States relied on a top-bottom organizational structure in which participants were either bused in or convinced to travel on their own dime by the mass media. Across the ideological and seriousness spectrum, the Million Man March, Glenn Beck's Restoring Honor Rally, the Tea Party's Taxpayer March on Washington and the pro-immigration reform March for America all used variations on these two tactics.

Also In This Series

1// The Inside Story Of Occupy Wall Street (Oct. 7)
A look back on a series of moments that have made the movement feel different than any other.

2// The Signs Of Occupy Wall Street (Oct. 7)
Signs, banners, and costumes have extra importance in a protest without a unified slogan [Slideshow].

3// The Stealth Leaders Of Occupy Wall Street (Oct. 7)
The movement prides itself on its lack of central authority, but here are the people keeping it humming.

4// Protest On Wall Street Is Louder Online Than Off (Sept. 19)
Is the future of activism more digital than physical? 

Occupy Wall Street's non-hierarhical nature ultimately doomed the event's inclusiveness. Unfortunately, Americans are a notoriously apathetic people. Effectively organizing large demonstrations in the United States requires a strong top-to-bottom organizational structure. There are tens of thousands upon tens of thousands of churches in the United States whose worshippers have been suddenly made economically irrelevant by the recession. Travel a few miles from Wall Street and there are whole neighborhoods where more than 15% of the population receives public assistance. Lobbying groups in Washington represent millions of Americans whose old jobs are disappearing and whose skill sets are not transferable—leaving them working low paying, part-time service sector jobs that cannot support their family.

This is the right time in the United States for an economic justice rally representing everyone—not just tech-savvy young people or activists already plugged into a whole host of causes. There are justified reasons for every American, not just radicals, to be angry at Wall Street right now. Even computer legend Tim O'Reilly is riled up.

Anonymous has also announced a DDoS attack on American financial institutions to take place today via the website. According to writers on, the Federal Reserve, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, the Federal Reserve Financial Research Library, CitiGroup, Banca d'Italia, and the website of the City of New York will all be targeted.

[Top Image: Flickr user andrewshiue, Bottom Image: Flickr user david_shankbone]

For more stories like this, follow @fastcompany on Twitter. Email Neal Ungerleider, the author of this article, here or find him on Twitter and Google+.

Add New Comment


  • Rob Curedale

    "Occupy Wall Street: Tahrir Over Here?" No this is Tiananmen square from 99.9% of US population who are excluded from the democratic process by the millions of dollars required by anyone to be elected, by thousands of corporate lobbyists who have corrupted our politicians and control the political system. It is time for change.

  • Jeremy Burns

    The scenario in the Middle East is completely different as the one in Europe or the USA. The issue surrounding all the revolutions in the arab nations are related to politics and social issues not economical disparity. 

    All of these countries has been under the regime of the same dictator for more than 20 years as an average (Gadhafi and Moubarak). People in the arab nations that experienced the "arab spring" are also the most "westernized" in comparison to the other countries that hasn't rise yet (Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iran, Qatar, UAE, etc.). 

    This revolution was about a change, but a change in how the citizens on each country felt completely misrepresented by their authorities, moreover when it was completely evident that those authorities were running a corrupted system. This kind of scenario could only be replicated in some african countries, China, Venezuela, and maybe Pakistan. 

    The movilizations that happened in Europe are related to the economical disparities between the rich and the poor after the crisis generated by an excess of welfare programs that has sunk the european economy and has put in evidence those disparities after the people has realized that they were all living inside a bubble. And this is also not an economical problem but a social problem, mostly because the X and Y generation bought the idea of "be whatever you want to be" and "live today" rather than focusing in what the future could bring in scenarios like this one. Now they have realized it was just a dream and they're pretty pissed off. 

    In the US what is happening is mostly an outsourcing crisis effect. The blue collar jobs are mostly extinct, and the ones who are still available are done by illegal inmigrants, mostly because unemployment pays better than those jobs (hence, the only ones accepting the wage are the illegal inmigrants). All the available jobs are mostly in the service industry and requires an expertise in an specific field. At the same time, the business culture is defined by the reduction of overheads to maximize profits. And most companies has also realized that less bureaucracy means more efficiency. The only option to ignite the US economy is by generating in a "macro level" a new generation of enterpreneurs (which is happening but a slow rate) that are going to be able to generate new job positions in brand new corporations, and in a "micro level" a new model of interdependent community economies. 

    This is why the protests against the Wall St. bankers are not going to have an echoe in the vast majority of the population. Deep inside their hearts they know that the bankers are not the problem (even though the commodities speculation is actually a problem generated by them) and any banking modification is not going to fix the problem anyways. The bankers are doing what they've been asked to do: generate profits for their investors. 

    Our social dilemma is that now we have more "needs" and same ammount of "resources" than before. We want more things that are available but without the resources to get them, generating the frustration the vast majority is suffering around the world. 

  • Rose Weaver

    "The unemployed are offered extensive government assistance that dulls anger at a sky-high unemployment rate. Easy access for nearly all economic classes to the Internet, video games, satellite television, and a million other distractions helps distract from discontent."
    Not true. Your source please? I'd love satellite television and a million other distractions to ease my discontent and dull my anger. And the internet service I have is incredibly expensive. I sacrifice food so I can keep in touch with real news, as well as friends from across the globe. Other than that, internet is all I have. I don't know where you get your info from but it's inaccurate. Next time, try talking to a real person experiencing poverty before you write your article. Thanks.

  • Rebecca Martin

    No disrespect Rose, but I think the point the author is trying to make is that we live in a country where most of us have the choice between things like food and internet even if we have limited resources to procure both; in some countries there is access to neither so the "choice" is moot.

  • nealu

    Hi Rose,
    As the author of the article (and, as it happens, someone who grew up on food stamps), the important thing to realize here is that everything's relative. While the poor and the working-class here in the USA do suffer greatly, they also have access to a wide range of material and economic comforts unavailable to their counterparts in Egypt and Tunisia. 

    While broadband internet is indeed expensive, dial-up internet is dirt cheap and pay-as-you-go-along mobile phones are readily available. According to the Energy Department's Residential Energy Consumption Survey 2009 (, cable/satellite television coverage, access to some form of internet and at least one video game system were available in the majority of households making under $40k a year. This also includes a large swath of the lower-middle class, but the DOE's demographic count bundles all households making $20-$40k a year into a single category. Looking at the data set they made available, 10+ million of the 16.9 million (!) American households below the poverty line have either cable television or satellite. While it's a tragedy that 16.9 million Americans are below the poverty line, they also have access to material privileges that are denied to those in the Maghreb.

    The worst of what I saw in the Middle East - children scavenging through trash, massive shantytowns and malls actively blocking the poor from entry - thankfully don't exist here.


  • tamudjin

    Hi Neal, 
    "While it's a tragedy that 16.9 million Americans are below the poverty line, they also have access to material privileges that are denied to those in the Maghreb." - There's some truth to that. From my limited personal experience, I've lived in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, & Manhattan in the last 20 years. In every neighborhood, I'd always end up stumbling upon a 16 - 20 yr old kid who'd offer me pirated video games for $5 per / disk, each disk contained multiple games for platforms like Xbox or Playstation, games like Assassin's Creed, Medal of Honor, Call of Duty, etc. Video games, even though they officially cost around $60/title can easily spread even among people who live on less than $40K/year. Similar stuff can be said about downloading music for free online or finding the latest episode of HBO / Showtime shows. You can use a credit card to make the initial purchase of a computer, Xbox, etc and then get the content free if you do enough Google searches or have friends who can show you what to do. I may be wrong, but as far as I know pirated movies, tv shows, video games, music are cheaply and openly sold on the street in countries like Egypt, just like in Russia and Thailand. I'm not sure how easy or not it is to actually purchase an Xbox over in those countries but if the content is being sold, someone must be buying it. And yet, the Egyptians still organized and had a revolution, even with all sorts of distractions being cheaply sold on the street. Time wil tell if young Americans can drop their Xbox controller long enough to do something about our problems. 

    "nearly all successful mass demonstrations and gatherings of recent years in the United States relied on a top-bottom organizational structure in which participants were either bused in or convinced to travel on their own dime by the mass media" 
    - There is some truth to this too but it's also true that not a single anti-War demonstration in 2003 was promoted by mass media. The left didn't have a Fox News Channel in 2003, the NYTimes was more interested in Judy Miller's regurgitation of gov't press releases than in genuine reporting that year. All of the anti-War organizing that brought tens of thousands of people out happened online and by word of mouth. 

    I think you're more spot on about the fact that non-hierarchical organizing is new to Americans today, who're more used to a Glen Beck, a United For Peace & Justice Steering Committee or a John Stewart leading the organizing effort and paying for busses to the rally.