What Role for Public Health in Occupy Wall Street?

National media attention on the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations in New York City and around the country provides new opportunities for public health professionals, researchers and activists concerned about the impact of corporations on health. In this post, I summarize some recent commentary on the health dimensions of Occupy Wall Street and invite Corporations and Health Watch readers to contribute suggestions for linking the demonstrations to public health concerns.

In a statement entitled “Declaration of the Occupation of New York City,” the General Assembly of Occupy Wall Street proclaimed:

“As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies. As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known…

They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization. They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless animals, and actively hide these practices.

They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions… They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams that look for ways to get them out of contracts in regards to health insurance.
They have sold our privacy as a commodity… They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products endangering lives in pursuit of profit… They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people’s lives or provide relief in order to protect investments that have already turned a substantial profit.”

Writing for the Center for Public Integrity’s IWatchNews, Wendell Potter observed:

“The lobbyists for U.S. health insurers surely have to be feeling a little uneasy knowing that thousands of Occupy Wall Street demonstrators who have been marching and protesting in Washington as well as New York and other cities might target them in the days ahead. After all, the headquarters of the insurers’ biggest lobbying and PR group, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), at 601 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., is just blocks away from Freedom Plaza, where the demonstrators have set up camp, and problems with health insurers appear to be near the top of the list of protesters’ concerns.

Health Care for America Now, an umbrella advocacy group that played a key role in the health care reform debate, last week analyzed the 546 comments that had been posted by then on “ We are the 99 percent” Tumblr site. It found that 262 of the comments mention such problems as getting denials for doctor-ordered care from their insurance companies and having to forego treatment because of hefty out-of-pocket costs.”

Writing for the Mother Nature Network, Russell McLendon points out the environmental concerns of OWS:

“Fresh off their own nonviolent stand outside the White House — where they spent two weeks protesting the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline — the re-energized U.S. environmental movement has now found an even bigger, broader stage. And like most factions of Occupy Wall Street, it seems perfectly happy to share that stage with other interests.

For too long, Wall Street has been occupying the offices of our government, and the cloakrooms of our legislatures,’ wrote Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, in an email to supporters before the march. ‘They’ve been a constant presence, rewarded not with pepper spray in the face but with yet more loopholes and tax breaks and subsidies and contracts. You could even say Wall Street’s been occupying our atmosphere, since any attempt to do anything about climate change always run afoul of the biggest corporations on the planet. So it’s a damned good thing the tables have turned.’”

These commentaries show some of the ways that Occupy Wall Street has raised the issue of the impact of corporate practices on wellbeing. We invite CHW readers to suggest additional connections between the demonstrations and public health concerns, to analyze OWS activities from a public health perspective or to share relevant observations on the demonstrations from others. Send responses to info@corporationsandhealth.org.

 

Image Credit:

Leica 1A via Flickr.