Wall Street executives started in the beginning as the protestors’ most hated targets. While Occupy Wall Street has come to represent a variety of niches and viewpoints, the current residents of Zuccotti Park can certainly agree on one thing: million-dollar bonuses and corporate greed on Wall Street must end.
But as the youth-driven protests continue, there are recent grads on the payroll of these large corporate banks that find themselves in the middle.
“ I’m not the 99% nor am I the 1%, ” says Jeremy Flynn, a twenty-two year old recent Cornell graduate. Flynn stopped by Zuccotti Park, a long ways away from his office in the Morgan Stanley building on 48th Street, out of curiosity.
Flynn is a first-year analyst in the Executive Compensation Group of Human Resources, which is the very group that sets the salaries and bonuses his peers are protesting. For two years, the group’s focus has been on figuring out how to cut back compensation and spending, but maintain the same level of motivation within the company.
For the thousands of recently recruited employees from nearby universities, the chances of seeing their old college friends and acquaintances among the protestors are high. Many of these young men and women, including Flynn, support the need for change and recognize the flaw in the current system. But they are getting lumped in with the 1% and all its negative connotations.
Cindy Ju, a recent graduate from University of Pennsylvania, and an analyst at JP Morgan, says that her alma mater was criticized for not having enough of its students protesting compared to nearby colleges such as Temple and Penn State.
“I know the issues through and through, and I want the same things they want,” says Ju, “but if one of my old college friends who is out there protesting saw me going to work, they’d hate me just for working here, and that’s just counter-productive. “
The media’s portrayal of the protestors, as well as the signage and rhetoric that is emerging, has created a scenario of one group versus another: a polarization that many young Wall Street recruits find disheartening and antagonistic.
“The complexity of our economic and political system’s downfall is being disregarded. It is not a simple win-lose scenario, “ says Ju.
Both Ju and Flynn, as well as many other young bankers and analysts, have made the trip from the actual location of their banks up in Midtown, to witness what their friends are a part of.
“It’s difficult for people like us to be in support of the protests or against it,” says Flynn, “ Many of us feel pressured by our peers, or even by our families, to take sides alongside or against our professional careers.”
Many of these young professionals feel that a more practical approach needs to grow out of the current protests. To them, Zuccotti Park is not a place of active improvement, but a build up of frustration in the hands of their generation. Flynn, whose daily work could answer the strongest outcries by the protestors, finds it ironic that he has taken time from his work day to witness the movement, saying, “My peers are protesting and they think that since I am contributing to the corrupt ‘system,’ that I am a part of it, but that’s not the case. ”
“In the very least, this does bring to light how outrageous executive compensation is. If anything, my bank as well as other corporations should feel challenged and optimistic to find more creative methods of motivation, “ says Flynn.