New York Times calls it the “frenzy that fizzled,” but OWS started a national discussion about things like the Volcker Rule, an unenforced Dodd-Frank provision that would have helped to mitigate the 2008-2009 bank crashes, the effects of corporate personhood, and the foreclosure crisis in America. They even helped to stop Bank of America from charging additional fees to use debit cards. Today, elements of the Occupy movement have bled into different facets of life, all with different names and faces but still surrounding economic inequality (like the outcry over the disparaging situation with student loans).
Unfortunately, a lot of people (especially those who write for newspaper and websites) felt that OWS’s policy of including anyone and everyone — including trying to make room for their personal and cultural demands — led to an obfuscation of intent and turned a strong movement for fiscal responsibility into a vaguely-defined amalgamation of misfits and vagabonds pissed off at everything. But just because the headlines are gone doesn’t mean the spirit is. OWS started a national discussion about economic inequality in America, moving the gap between rich and poor in America from unsourced liberal conspiracy to economic reality.
Gatherers on Monday celebrated the one year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, and amid the birthday cakes and balloons — and over 180 people being arrested — the diminished energy of the organizations are readily salient. Not as many people turned out (which was expected), but that doesn’t mean that the ripple effect of last year’s protests isn’t still alive and well.
It’s like the movie Independence Day: even if you only watched it once when you were a kid, you still remember when Will Smith punched that alien in the face. We don’t need protesters in the streets every single day to remind us of the economic problems in America because for the first time in decades, the average American has a clue.
Looking Back at a Year of Occupying Wall Street
A year ago I was sitting at work with the news on behind me.
“Now,” someone started saying, “Lawson, you’re not thinking about going out there and holding up some signs, are you?”
My commanding officer had his arms crossed and was tip-toeing on the line of trying to make a joke and trying to get a serious answer out of me. Above us, protesters on T.V. outside of Wall Street shouted popsicle-stick length alliterations at news cameras.
I shook my head. “No, sir, but I might head to D.C. and take some pictures. They’ll be rallying there too, I’m sure.”
He nodded slowly to himself and tried to sound important.
“Well just remember,” he said, “I don’t want to have to do paperwork on you just because some out-of-work college kids want to go and scream and shout for attention. Okay?”
That was my boss’s comments about protesters during the Occupy Movement in October, and that sentiment was shared among a lot of Americans thanks to conservative media groups covering the protests and, instead of addressing the talking points about economic inequality in America (like Citizens United v. FEC), they chose to pick apart the attire of the protesters and cast them off as a bunch of jobless, silly poor people. It got so bad that evangelical Christians were speaking out against the protesters as if there was some sort of holy war going on, even though their prophet would have been protesting, too (if not leading the movement!).
Ironically, the conservative movement about a year and a half earlier had bred its own form of Occupy Wall Street: the Tea Party. Upset with government involvement in personal choices (like taxes on non-diet soft drinks proposed in 2009 by New York Governor David Patterson) and downright pissed about the TARP bailouts and ARRA stimulus bill, they took to the streets throughout 2009 and ended up getting some strong representation in Congress in 2010. Ironically, once in office, the congresspeople pushed for legislation that invaded personal choices and allocated money to programs that the majority of Americans didn’t agree with, but that’s another story.
Despite the Tea Party generally being a conservative movement and the Occupy Wall Street movement leaning toward the left, both had drastic similarities in talking points. Unfortunately, only Tea Party had enough funding to run campaigns to get representation in congress, leaving the broke OWS supporters with not a lot of help in terms of organization sustainment. The still-available wealth in the Tea Party led a lot of people to believe that the movement was more for privileged white people upset at having to pay taxes than for people who wanted responsible fiscal change in government.
But money didn’t stop them. OWS supporters slept in tents and marched and rallied all day to speak out against a lot of the same causes that the Tea Party spoke out against. NPR had ran a story called “Occupy Wall Street, Tea Party: United In Distrust,” explaining how both parties were upset about campaign finance policies and corporate interests in politics. When OWS took to the streets, they held economic inequality as the highest form of disenfranchisement in America, clinging to the popularized slogan, “We are the 99%.”
There have been competing hypotheses as to who originally coined the phrase. Some point to an article in Vanity Fair by Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz entitled, “Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%.” Others go further back to 2006, when Johnson & Johnson heir Jamie Johnson produced a documentary about America’s wealth-gap between the rich and poor in America, referring to the “top 1%” of Americans when describing those who own 38% of America’s wealth. Even still, others say that this attitude of a poor majority with a laundry list of grievances over the wealthy minority has been the hallmark of capitalistic and monarchistic countries since the rich white men who started America signed a document that essentially told their former King where he could stick his wealth.
And isn’t that an awfully ironic picture: our founding fathers upset at a ruling, wealthy elite, and striking up in defiance by declaring their independence from them. If the Occupy movement had the money and slaves that those rich white men had, who knows what new country could have been established at the expense of the indigenous population. One thing’s for sure, though: for all the pedestals that we place the declarers of our country’s independence from an overtaxing, overbearing, and overcompensated wealthy few, conservative America sure was quick to cast off OWS as bunch of lazy, jobless hippies who just wanted free stuff and attention.
For a historical look at the Old Left and New, and how Occupy Wall Street compares to earlier protests in America (like Vietnam and the Seattle protests in ’99), check out Joseph Palermo’s Occupy Wall Street: A Year Later.
Have you been to an Occupy Wall Street protest?