Think the Occupy Wall Street movement is dead? Think again. Today marks the one-year anniversary of the movement, which, for many New Yorkers weary of planning routes around protest sites, simply means there will be more traffic in the Financial District this coming week. But instead of focusing on the inconveniences of protests in the city, let’s look at what the movement has actually achieved.
Much of the discussion about Occupy over the last year has centered on its supposed ineffectualness — skeptics ask again and again, “What can you accomplish by sleeping in a park?” A lot, in my opinion.
While policy changes may not have abounded because of the movement, Occupy has successfully brought wealth inequality into the national discussion. Four years ago — or even one year ago — wealth inequality was not seen as one of our country’s major economic woes. One of the biggest scandals of President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign came when a statement he made about sharing the wealth was taken out of context.
Now, even Republican lawmakers and candidates are being forced to acknowledge the astronomical wealth disparities that are tearing our country apart.
At the same time, tangible non-policy changes have fundamentally altered communities. A branch of Occupy in San Francisco succeeded in stopping banks from foreclosing on dozens of homes — all through grass-roots efforts. New labor unions have sprung up in Manhattan and Brooklyn of Occupy.
These are not small achievements. Occupy Wall Street has yet to nominate candidates for national office, which some say should be their logical next stop. After all, the Tea Party’s success came after it grew out of a community group and became a voting bloc. But, as critics have cited again and again, Occupy cannot be a voting bloc because it encompasses such diverse ideas. Instead of trying to insert themselves into a system they believe has failed them, Occupiers are proving they can work outside the system to improve their lives and their country.
You may have noticed the uptick in Occupy activities around the city this weekend. As the Occupiers build up to their anniversary — “S17” in Occupy jargon — they are once again proving their protests can make a difference, and that they can, in fact, Occupy New York. Today the protests will be even bigger. Occupiers will stage a sit-down in front of the New York Stock Exchange, followed by a complete occupation of the area with constantly moving protesters.
If you’re in the Financial District today, try to see past the inconvenience of having your city occupied by a huge public protest and look to what the protesters are trying to achieve. The greatest success today would come in the form of a large enough disruption that the stock market would have to be shut down for a few hours, pausing the constant trading of the wealth of the few who are very rich at the expense of the many. If that does not happen though, Occupiers can still consider themselves successful if they convince one more person to join the movement, talk to one banker on his way home from Wall Street or get through to anyone the message that the financial system in this country is unfair and that the people can change that.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Sept. 17 print edition. Jess Littman is deputy opinion editor. Email her at email@example.com.
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