The protest movement that reframed radical inequality as a matter of 99 percent to 1 percent is not what it was this time last year.
When Occupy Wall Street rocked the nation and then the world in September 2011, few of us had ever seen anything like it. The majority of Americans openly sympathized with the protesters in the town square. We saw the stories of debt and struggle and financial vulnerability and said, “Yes, we are them, and they are us — and those people, standing right over there, are the problem.”
And that was powerful. And true.
We experimented with new forms of organizing and communication that involved Twitter and finger twinkles and mic checks, and horizontalism became something other than what we do on weekends in front of our TVs.
Ordinary people took risks, made sacrifices and behaved heroically. Newly minted activists mingled with street people in the encampments and struggled with the complexities of caring for each other. Public space was occupied, and the bad actors of capitalism were called out and named for all to see.
President Obama said of Occupy, “You are the reason I ran for office,” and that was a very big deal. And in the delirium of the moment, it looked like something akin to the revolution had arrived.
But real change doesn’t come that easy.
Within two to three months, the encampments were attacked as public health hazards and systematically discredited and dismantled by force. We probably could have seen that coming. They did the same thing to the Bonus Marchers in 1932, and those guys were military veterans.
Other surprises were in store. Engaging in long public debates half a sentence at a time, it turns out, was not for everyone. The thing about the 99 percent is that they lead busy, stressful lives, often filled with unremunerative work obligations. This tends to reduce one’s tolerance for tedious bullshit.
Seattle’s General Assembly became dysfunctional. Many activists retreated to the committees and left the GA to those who could stand it. As frustration mounted, the various shards of Seattle’s sectarian left settled in after most everyone else went away, which, of course, accelerated the exodus.
The “Diversity of Tactics” debate was the final nail to the Occupy coffin. The unresolved issue of whether you can trust the person next to you to not do something stupid is, for most people, a bit of a deal breaker.
This week, on the one-year anniversary of Zuccotti Park, thousands of people will listen to Chris Hedges debate the nonviolence issue in New York with activists from Crimethinc, but honestly, the debate is over and settled, simply because there is no longer a real Occupy movement.
Occupy resonated with America because, after nearly 40 years of rising inequality, the deep divisions in wealth and opportunity have plainly become unsustainable.
This is no less true now than it was last September. The work goes on, and new forms of organizing will arise.
And change will come. Occupy is dead. Long live, Occupy.