During a rally for the Chicago teachers union on September 15, a representative from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) introduces the president, Karen Lewis, who has led the fight for a fair contract and better conditions for students in schools. He says she taught everyone, including himself, that there’s power in the 99%. A few days before, in a park in downtown Chicago, a rally for striking teachers is held. One of the speakers calls for a mic check, a method of communication used when no loud speaker is available which the Occupy movement popularized.
In a march from Hyatt hotel, as thousands fill the street resisting the corporate agenda the city of Chicago has tried to push on teachers and students, one can see multiple signs decrying Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Hyatt hotel heiress Penny Pritzker for using their wealth and social status to serve the 1% instead of students and teachers. The thousands of people gathered are not the people who one year ago ignited what is now known as the Occupy movement, but they show this movement was and continues to be bigger than the people who themselves setup tents and occupied public spaces all over the country for months last year.
Occupy was a moment. It is a moment with a story that should be told and retold again because it will forever be a shining example of the people rising up to take on power.
On September 17, 2011, hundreds inspired by uprisings in Greece, Spain, Tunisia, Egypt and other countries attempted to get on Wall Street but were met with a huge show of force by the New York Police Department (NYPD). Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s army fortified Wall Street making it impossible for anyone to go in and register their discontent. By mid-afternoon, the police had pushed demonstrators back into Zuccotti Park—what this movement would call Liberty Square.
It appeared, as it would for many of the coming days, that the police were going to move on demonstrators at any moment and there would be mass arrests. The police wanted someone they could take away and hold responsible for this act of dissent. However, there was no leader and there would be no leader.
Around 10 pm, sleeping bags were unrolled. The owner of the park had apparently decided to allow people to remain in the park overnight. One occupier, Joanne Lipp, tweeted, “It really does feel like a mini Tahrir Square.”
The following day, having apparently overcome the obstacle of finding space where people could occupy without being removed by police, “a modest call to action” appeared on the movement’s website. It was a call for revolution.
Because corporations have seized control of society, the movement called for protests in cities all over the world. The movement called for people to organize, raise consciousness, and urged people in cities with no protests to organize and disrupt the system. The movement called for workers to strike, seize their workplace collectively and organize their workplaces democratically. The movement called for students and teachers to teach each other about democracy. The movement called for the unemployed to volunteer and use what skills they had to become part of a community. The movement called for people’s assemblies in every city, public square and township. The movement called for the seizure of abandoned buildings, abandoned land and properties seized and abandoned by speculators. And then a core group under this banner of Occupy Wall Street hunkered down and prepared for long-term struggle for a world where people had the freedom to communicate, live, to be, to go, to love, to stand up to power for freedom for all and to take on oppressive power structures in the United States that had wholly perverted and undermined liberty.
One post cannot do justice to all that transpired between the first week of Occupy and this anniversary without overwhelming readers, however, multiple books have been written & published, which have attempted to capture the spirit and inform others about the movement. It can address the current perception of the movement and challenge it.
In some ways, corporate and/or establishment media have scrutinized this social movement more than key Obama administration policies toward Wall Street, more than Obama’s kill list, more than Obama’s codification of military detention into law or more than Mitt Romney’s record with Bain Capital.
The corporate and/or establishment media have believed the Occupy movement was dead for months now. According to The Gothamist’s collection of “groan-inducing” headlines, since November 2011, the movement has been dead to a good portion of the press in one way or another, even though reporters continue to go cover actions organized under the banner of Occupy (and sometimes get arrested for doing their job).
Occupy Wall Street is 99% Dead (Wall Street Journal, 11/2/11)
Occupy Wall Street: The Bloom Is Fading (The Economist, 11/7/11)
Why Occupy Wall Street Won’t Make A Difference (Huffington Post, 11/11/11)
The Failure Of The “Occupy Wall Street” Movement (O’Reilly Factor, 11/16/11)
Is Occupy Wall Street Over? Many New Yorkers Hope So (CNBC, 11/18/11)
PR Experts: Occupy Movement A Self-Defeating Disaster (Hot Air, 11/18/11)
The Protests Failed But Capitalism Is Still In The Dock (Financial Times, 11/18/11)
The Occupy Movement Has Failed The Essential Test Of Protest (Telegraph, 11/19/11)
Occupy Wall Street’s Failure To Launch (Huffington Post, 11/23/11)
Occupy Wall Street, Vowing Spring Return, Dwindles In NY (WNYC, 1/31/12)
Whatever Happened To Occupy Wall Street? (Huffington Post, 1/31/12)
Whatever Happened To Occupy Wall Street? (Los Angeles Times, 3/7/12)
Is Occupy Wall Street Dead? (Russia Today, 3/16/12)
So Where’s That Occupy Wall Street Comeback? (Gawker, 4/18/12)
Death By Fairy Tale: After Occupy, “The 99% Spring” Fizzle (Forbes, 4/30/12)
Occupy Wall Street Resurgence A Dud (Reuters, 5/1/12)
Occupy Protesters Are “Dumb And They’re Done” (O’Reilly/FOX News, 5/2/12)
The Ho-Hum May Day Protests: Is the Occupy Movement Dead? (The Week, 5/2/12)
Occupy Wall Street’s People Power Loses Popularity (Guardian, 5/14/12)
The Death Of Occupy Wall Street? It Sure Seems Like It (Outside The Beltway, 5/17/12)
Did Occupy Matter? (Harvard Crimson, 5/24/12)
The Failure Of Occupy Wall Street (Huffington Post, 5/31/12)
Occupy Wall Street Struggles For Survival (The Fiscal Times, 6/9/12)
Occupy Wall Street Movement Has Hit A Wall (Washington Post, 6/18/12)
Is The Occupy Movement Dead? (CBS Boston, 6/19/12)
Is Occupy Wall Street Dead?(The Blaze, 6/20/12)
Whatever Happened To Occupy Wall Street? (Front Page Magazine, 7/6/12)
What’s Happened To The Occupiers? (Irish Times, 9/15/12)
One Year Later, What Ever Happened To Occupy Wall Street? (NBC News, 9/16/12)
The NBC News article by Miranda Leitsinger is symbolic of professional media’s view. Leitsinger summarizes, “One year after the movement began, it has been reduced to a shadow of its former self: Occupy’s makeshift camps have been shuttered, its membership has dwindled amid internal squabbling and what critics called a lack of direction and goals, and its hopes for social change so far have been unrealized,” as if Occupy chose to shutter its camps and there was no police repression, as if any movement has not ebbed and flowed and gone through internal fights and as if beating back the corporate state’s control over the United States government could have reasonably been expected to begin in less than one year and Occupy was not initiated as a struggle that could last for years, if not decades.
Joe Nocera of the New York Times wrote on September 14 about the anniversary of Lehman Brothers filing for bankruptcy protection and the anniversary of the beginning of the Occupy movement. “For all intents and purposes, the Occupy movement is dead,” Nocera declares, “even as the Tea Party lives on.” It is dead because it did not become the liberal Tea Party, which is the only way the journalistic elite in America think a force for change can remain lasting.
Also, according to Nocera, the main reason it is “dead” is because the movement “would not engage with the larger world.” It would not “dirty its hands by talking to anyone in power.” Taking over a park became “an end in itself rather than the means to something larger. Occupy was an “insular” movement with members who only talked to those within the movement. If it weren’t for the fact that Nocera has not produced one piece of journalism on the movement, it would be more than smug nonsense.
Nocera, being of the media elite, cannot be expected to challenge conventional politics. To people like Nocera, they recognize Occupy railed against income inequality, but because they have not worked within the system and lobbied members of Congress and signed petitions and campaigned for piecemeal reforms representatives and senators might be able to fight for without jeopardizing their re-election campaigns, Occupy is unsupportable. As far as someone like Nocera is concerned, Occupy wants too much democracy and does not know how things work.
As I wrote in September of last year, criticism of protest movements by the media elite is a way of affirming their conviction that at some point the children need to leave the streets and the grown-ups must be allowed to work in peace. It is also part of the culture; expressing support for “hippies” or a “plurality of voices” preaching against capitalism will not win friends and influence people in the Beltway. And so, they will make criticisms whether there is evidence to support what is said or written.
The reason Occupy has not brought more change is because the ability of US citizens to influence power has been neutralized by corporate and special interest money. The movement has been neutralized by bureaucracies whose existence in government is more important than the damage they do to liberty and justice in society. And, the movement has been neutralized by two parties that give Americans the illusion of choice by citing the other party’s most frightening and upsetting features to intimidate citizens into perpetuating and reinforcing the worst aspects of the system.
Running candidates could have, in the short-term, provided some needed energy to the movement, but Occupy had and has always been about a long-term vision for society. The “Declaration of Occupation of New York City” put forward by Occupy Wall Street was an indictment of a corrupt system, which Democrats and Republicans are both complicit in perpetuating. The call for people to assert their power and grow the spirit of direct democracy was not a call for Americans to participate in kabuki democracy.
That is not to say that Occupy is perfect movement. The infighting and struggles within the movement should be taken seriously by people who hope Occupy will be a force that brings about a necessary shift in society of power from the corporations to the people. But, the answer to problems within the movement is not to criticize as an observer, like media elite do. The answer is to join in the struggle so that the weaknesses causing infighting and squabbles can be addressed, so that the movement can grow in its power.
The reality is Occupy has had multiple successes beyond having an impact on culture (e.g. average Americans joking about occupying their couch). The movement launched a spinoff, Occupy Our Homes, that helped individual Americans battle the banks in order to save their homes from being foreclosed. They helped people like Marine veteran Bobby Hull in Minneapolis, Minnesota, save his home from foreclosure. Occupy Data created maps for visualizing economic data, such as bank mergers and campaign contributions. They contributed to the democratization of media by launching newspapers, radio programs, and websites. A whole crew of live streamers became the eyes and ears for the world and covered the movement in major cities all over the country.
The movement made an effort to clothe, feed and provide shelter to the homeless while at the same time turning them empowering them to become participants in the movement when it had encampments. The movement educated people on the value of direct democracy and hearing voices other than those who could be considered to be white privileged. The movement joined the battle against the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council and helped pressure corporate sponsors and legislators, who ended their support. Occupiers emboldened Democrats in New York, who passed a millionaire’s tax. In the city of Buffalo, the movement successfully pushed for divestment from Chase Bank. Occupiers in Providence struck a deal with the city to open a homeless shelter. The movement inspired countless individuals, like Grace Davis, to take action. And, not to be overstated, occupiers raised Americans’ awareness of the growing gap in wealth between the rich and poor in this country making it for a moment acceptable to criticize the machinations of capitalism in America.
As Chris Hedges wrote in the book he co-authored with Joe Sacco, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt:
The Occupy movements are the physical embodiment of hope. They returned us to a world where empathy is a primary attribute. They defied the profit-driven hierarchical structures of corporate capitalism. They know that hope has a cost, that it is not easy or comfortable, that it requires self-sacrifice and discomfort and finally faith. In Zuccotti Park and throughout the country, they slept on concrete every night. Their clothes were soiled. They ate more bagels and peanut butter than they ever thought possible. They tasted fear, were beaten, went to jail, were blinded by pepper spray, cried, hugged each other, laughed, sung, talked too long in general assemblies, saw their chants drift upward to the office towers above them, wondered if it is worth it, if anyone cared, if they would win.
Going into the major direct actions planned for Wall Street on the anniversary, many occupiers in New York again taste fear. They again have been threatened, manhandled and some sent to jail. They again share in the joy of Occupy, sing together and meet to plan how they intend to make history. They undoubtedly wonder aloud if it is worth it to be in New York for the anniversary and if what they have planned will make any difference. Yet, understanding the moral imperative to resist, they are prepared to stand up to whatever force the NYPD, Wall Street’s own militia, have planned for them on the anniversary.
It is impossible to know what impact any future actions of the Occupy movement will have. It is impossible to know what effect the movement will have on the economy, on politics, on the corporate state and on the structures of power which seek to maintain control of society. Yet, what is clear—as the late great people’s historian Howard Zinn said—is you can’t be neutral on a moving train. One can either be apathetic and passive in the face of injustice or one can speak out and take some kind of action that impede the ability of power to continue to commit injustice.
The injustices perpetrated by Wall Street remain. They’ve gone unpunished. Wall Street’s control over Washington, DC, has only further solidified since the economic collapse of 2008. The need for resistance by the masses could not be greater. More significantly, Occupy is not just a core group of people, who have taken action day in and day out in New York. They are the people who revolt all over the United States against the 1%, who wage teacher strikes, who blockade oil or gas pipelines, who stand in the way of the coal industry as it attempts to blow up another mountain, who go to secret trade negotiations and disrupt them with their presence and who walk off the job at a Wal-Mart warehouse because of abuses in the workplace.
A year later, the movement remains leaderless and decentralized. The banner of Occupy belongs to everyone struggling for freedom and dignity. Wherever there’s resistance, there’s a bit of Occupy.