Occupy is… forgotten?
When my work is done, it is forgotten. That is why it lasts forever.
2nd Verse, Tao Te Ching
Now, four years after the start of the Occupy Movement, the protests that spread to 82 countries across the world and resulted in more than 7,000 arrests in the U.S. alone, it has been all but forgotten in our collective conscious. Few are quick to point to Occupy Wall Street as a major influence in today’s political narrative, yet we are seeing presidential candidates, in an unprecedented way, using ideas and language made popular by the movement.
Currently, thousands across the nation are bringing light to issues of racial inequality and police brutality, echoing the 2011 economic justice movement. We are seeing a growing refusal among many to accept the injustices society has dealt them, whether they be racial, social, economic, or political. In an age where movements can be organized through a smartphone, and activists can share their experiences as they happen, people are rejecting the notion that individual efforts rarely have impact.
The populist tone of this coming election reflects the influence that citizen groups like Occupy have had on our nation’s politics. Politicians on both sides are speaking openly about inequality, though their approaches vary widely. Hillary Clinton, despite her business-friendly record, has repeatedly commented on unfairly high CEO pay in her campaign speeches. Meanwhile, media darling Donald Trump has made corporate tax reform a central part of his campaign, saying that “These guys [U.S. corporations], they make a fortune and they have no real loyalty, in many cases, they have no real loyalty to the United States. They want to show a good profit and loss statement.”.
Acknowledging the original movement that has helped place populist sentiment at the center of politics is important to fully understanding our present circumstances. Occupy Wall Street began on September 17th, 2011, when a thousand or so protesters, organized by the editor of the anti-consumerist magazine
, marched through Wall Street to protest economic disparity and the corporate control of American politics.
By October, “Occupy” had spread around the globe, its protests on every continent. In the U.S., the police response to these was gaining more media attention than the activists themselves. In Oakland, California, an Occupy march against the closure of a park activists had camped at turned violent when police threw a gas canister that struck an Iraq Veteran, fracturing his skull.
Occupiers were not fully innocent themselves, try as they did to reinforce that image. The downfalls of massive protests became clear as certain sects of the movement began to favor confrontation with the police. Occupy Oakland became particularly notorious for violent interactions with the police. One protest, in January of 2012, resulted in more than 400 arrests after protesters pelted officers with rocks and bottles and vandalized City Hall.
The supposed lack of a clear Occupy message, in fact, left room for social discontent from all walks of life to be heard. As once before, in the mid-60’s to the early 70’s, it is now again common for social movements to take center stage in the national dialogue. Among the many issues that have achieved that prominence is the disparity between the high rate at which black youth are arrested in comparison to the much lower number of white youths for commission of the same crime, as well as a similar ratio of police shootings of black suspects. (Likewise, it’s a 60’s issue, but with a whole new moniker – #BlackLivesMatter.)
And, now, here come the Conventions. Will the remnants of the Occupy Movement impact these, too? Perhaps, even, the ghosts from that last glorious era of social upheaval? Just the other day, I heard Bernie Sanders (what? A Socialist as a serious contender for the nomination of the Democratic Party) called the Eugene McCarthy of the new millennium. Who might be this time’s Dick Gregory or Hubert Humphrey? And is there another Chicago in our near future?
Four years ago, protesters who criticized the failings of America’s political and economic systems were being met with brute police force, and were subject to FBI crackdowns. Today, candidates like Clinton and Sanders are being rewarded with national support for saying much of the same things. As we continue into this next phase of the elections, the ultimate impact of Occupy will become clearer, let’s watch together.
Ed.’s Note: This is Emma Delaporte’s first contribution to the LA Free Press. Here are some of her resources that you might want to peruse.