Is Occupy one?

I mean: is Occupy now one year old?  Is it still around?  Is it unified?

A year ago on September 17, the Occupation of Zuccotti Park began, with a beautiful poster and far less participation and promise than it soon showed.  Journalists and activists want to make sense of what’s left now that the Occupations are gone.  There will be commemorations and evaluations everywhere.  (I participated in one yesterday at Marketplace;  the 20 minute interview condensed to 5-7, which is how these things go.)

Most evaluations are unlikely to be very optimistic.  Occupations across the United States–and around the world, were surprising, very visible, disruptive, and unpredictable.  The organization was confusing to outsiders, and the goals of the occupations were hard to pin down, not the least because activists differed in both their ultimate objectives and in their visions of how to achieve them.  Occupations saw their diversity as a strength, and were reluctant to adopt organizations that silenced or back burnered anyone.  In the name of democracy and horizontalism, nothing very specific came to the fore.  But critics were reluctant to acknowledge the very clear concerns with political and economic inequality.

The unwieldy and time consuming governance at the Occupations made it hard for Occupiers to agree on anything beyond continuing their encampments, and local governments refused to let them do so. Once the occupations ended, Occupy was a lot harder for journalists to cover and to make sense of, and much less visible to a broader public.  To be sure, meetings and actions continued, but without an overarching unity.  And if you weren’t following the right sites or plugged into an active network, Occupy just slipped from visibility.

Elections crowd out social movements in America, sucking up attention, activists, and money.  Many people redirect their efforts from issues to candidates, compromising a message for a messenger.

The Tea Party, still visible in national politics, mostly through a few Washington-based groups and the Republican Party, has made this move vigorously.  With some disappointment, Tea Party organizations and activists have embraced their 29th choice for the Republican nomination, Governor Mitt Romney because, whatever his flaws, they see him as preferable to another term of President Obama.

Occupy activists were determined not to let this happen, to face a fate like that of the movement that helped provoke them, to wind up sucked in and sold out by a politician who would use them offering only slight reforms.  They refused to build formal organizations, open national offices, or endorse candidates, emphasizing the grassroots as an alternative approach.  But there are risks associated with that strategy as well: lack of a clear message, lack of visibility, difficulties in mobilizing broadly, and difficulties in influencing mainstream politics.  That’s what we now see.

So, activists are trying to use the anniversary to revivify Occupy–or at least remind Americans that they and their concerns are still out there.

#S17NYC, representing the 99 percent, will work to resume an Occupation “with non-violent civil disobedience and flood the area around it with a roving carnival of resistance.”  Several groups have already turned out to protest, and police have arrested dozens of would-be Occupiers in New York City and elsewhere.  The authorities will certainly be better prepared and less tolerant of Occupations than they were a year earlier.

It will be hard to re-raise a mass movement during the last phase of the electoral campaign, but Occupy campaigns across the country will continue to search for events and issues that will spark the imagination in the same way that the first Occupation did.

In the meantime, thousands of young people cut their political teeth sleeping outside in public spaces around the United States.  They’re not done, even if we don’t see what they’re doing now.

About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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69 Responses to Is Occupy one?

  1. Although I admit that the Occupy movement itself is less visible today than it was a year ago, I do think its effects can be felt this election, especially with the emphasis each party is giving on how they would treat the middle class vs. how millionaires would be treated. I don’t know if anyone else feels this way, but I definitely see the effects of the Occupy movement.
    What’s your take?

  2. Yes, they are done. I’m all for a good cause, and today’s youth should be rallying in the streets pointing fingers at those who have caused this financial meltdown. The problem is, Wall Street was not the only cause. It was our government — both democrats and republicans — who pushed for the removal of regulations to increase risky trading (Glass-Steagall), and also forced banks to make risky loans (or else). They’re educated, out of work, and mad. I remember going through something very similar in the ’70s. However, the near-term fixes put out by our government only make big banks bigger, and now we are, again, trying to force banks to make loans they really don’t want to make. The OW groups actually represent the 1%, made up (as in New York) of educated, urban hipsters, and slackers there to hang out. Many of these groups break down into their own little “Animal Farm” with a ruling class and proletariat. The message is fuzzy, and without an organized party to carry the ball for them, they’re left spinning their wheels.The solution? In my opinion, a better economy, number one. And number two, if you’re going to spend — and in some cases risk — hundreds-of-thousands on a college education, you should be closely advised as to the employment opportunities upon graduation. It’s not fair to graduates to have a glut of art history majors when the schools that were very happy to take their tuition knew beforehand they were educating the unemployable. And students — while they should follow their passion and bliss — should also be aware that somewhere along the line, that may come at a price. Perhaps the best thing to come of the Wall Street meltdown of 2008 was that is forced some of our best minds back into fields like engineering and medicine, and made others question and, hopefully, prepare for their marketability upon graduation. Let’s not forget many of the idealists of the ’60s became the me-me yuppies of the ’80s. Yesterday’s SDS organizer is now a partner at Goldman Sachs.

    • SimplySage says:

      Very excellent point. Well said.

    • I agree with you about the fuzziness of the remedies OWS offered, largely because they couldn’t agree among themselves–and didn’t develop a process that let them make such decisions. I also agree that the student debt bomb is a crisis, but I try to remember how much more generously higher education was subsidized not so long ago–even for art history majors.

    • wolfthought says:

      Well spoken and said. I wish I could be as gentle in my own posting (not really) sometimes . . .There is always a cost to everything, and people who REFUSE to see the long term cost are destined to suffer the consequences.

  3. I think that Occupy has lost its focus. Like the Tea Party, Occupy was co-opted by monied interests and a lot of bandwagon jumpers moved in and pretty much messed it up. I think that in the future far left activists such as myself need to go to the public with a solid platform so we can let them know what we want and how we want to achieve it.

    The main problem with Occupy, like so many other Anarchist-led movements, is that there were too many opinions/ides floating around. I think that if we really want to be taken seriously we need to find a way to appeal to the average person. It should not be that hard to do.

    At any rate, I think that Occupy has done its job in that it has really brought to light how bad corruption is in the corporate and banking world.

  4. The Occupy Movement in Toronto (aka Occupy Toronto) was plagued by the same issues—lack of vision, lack of unity and cohesiveness as a whole, lack of a clear action plan etc. While I do feel that the movement did make an impact, I feel the impact dissipated soon after…… For the movement to have a tangible, ongoing impact, I believe it needs to move to the next level — beyond protests. They need to get the local community involved in their cause somehow. I’m not really sure how they could go about doing this, but I just feel that they they need to move beyond what they did a year ago, in order to truly achieve the changes they desire.

  5. fireandair says:

    All I know about Occupy is that in Philadelphia it has made itself a proud pain in the ass … to all the wrong people. The only people it has truly inconvenienced are the working schlubs at city hall who have to walk all the way around them to avoid the waste and filth and occasional human feces — working schlubs who are in no way in the 1%.

    Meanwhile, the billionaire personal jets continue to take off and land as they always did.

    Occupy is a gigantic waste of time. What it wanted to achieve hasn’t been, and it’s still desperately needed: some way to get the boots off our necks that are owned by the same three billionaires who control everything we see and hear. Unfortunately, as always happens, it was taken over people who are more into their own participation in a cool, hip new trend than by people who are up to the boring grind of actually making a difference, which is way less glamorous and likely to get your picture on a blog.

    It was taken up by the same dipshits who decided in 2008 that “Words Matter” … more than actions do.

    • You know, the real 99 percent would include police and clerks and all those folks you mention as annoyed.

      • fireandair says:

        You know, that was my point. That the only people the Occupy protesters inconvenienced were other 99%ers. Meanwhile, the billionaires’ lives go on completely unaffected.

        And nothing changes.


      • So, what to do to get attention for the cause?

      • fireandair says:

        Besides, if the schlubs working at City Hall are in the 99%, someone forgot to tell the protesters, who have a tendency to respond to complaints from the workers with high-flown language about how they have jobs, so they aren’t in the 99% and can’t sympathize with the downtrodden whatevers they are supposedly representing. My SIL got into a shouting match with one who told her that, and SHE had to tell the idiot, “Hey, I’m working to make ends meet, I’m in the 99% along with you!” He told her to f*ck off. This was NOT the only such instance of this — confrontations like this are the majority of how the Occupy idiots talk to the working folks who they are blocking and interfering with.

        Yes, we are being slowly choked to death by about three billionaires who control everything we see and hear … and if *ssholes like that guy and the rest of the Occupy losers are the ones who are supposed to be changing things, we are in even deeper trouble than we originally thought.

      • There’s lunatics and creeps around the edges of any movement. I’m not ready to dismiss Occupy because some of the enthusiasts it sucked up into activity were naive or rude. If you’re out to represent the 99 percent, the challenge is to do something forceful enough to get attention without alienating the people you aim to serve. Occupy did a great job of getting attention for inequality a year ago. Obtaining consensus from the 99 percent is likely to be even more paralyzing than getting consensus only from those willing to sleep outside.

  6. What a well-rounded blog. I really struggle to find the link that ever bound the various “Occupy” camps together. I really don’t think it was ever organized or expressed efficiently. I do however believe it’ll still be an issue here in a couple months, especially with Romney’s “47%” comment and the general consensus that he’s an elitist.

    I’m in broadcast news and have just started a blog on politics, business and economics reporting. (Insert shameless plug here): Feel free to check it out, I hope to cover some of the same topics as you!

    I’ll definitely be following your blog, thanks for the info!

    • Thanks for the comments and the link. I’d venture that all the Occupys were united by a tactic (occupation) and a general concern with political and economic inequality. That’s a lot, but not enough for the longer haul.

  7. segmation says:

    Love your awesome blog. Hard to believe that Occupy is a year old. Since election time is almost here, I think that will be the judge of the Occupy movement. Thanks for sharing.

  8. I just want to thank you guys for such an informative blog!

  9. Excellent analysis, David! Best I’ve read yet. The co-opting claim I hear from some is bogus. The Dems never “co-opted” the movement. The Dems were just more sympathetic to the movement than the GOP but most establishment Dems were also afraid of the movement. Thus they kept it at arms length and POTUS even signed a bill making the Occupy protests more difficult. Ironically, the only one coming close to trying to “co-opt” the message were the Ron Paul folks who were ever-present early on at the rallies. In any case, the movement is more about giving voice to the disaffected and excluded than it is about a unified message. And although there were quite a few older folks at the rallies, there is a real generational aspect to it as the Babyboomers pull up the draw bridge to the advantages they received when they were younger, in favor of benefits for themselves like low investment taxes, low educational expenditures, etc. If Romney is elected and does as he promises, the movement will more likely be reinvigorated than it will be under a more sympathetic Democratic administration.

    • I think you’re right that the movement is more likely to reemerge strongly if Republicans make strong gains. And there’s absolutely a generational element here. I think too many older folk forget the advantages they (we) enjoyed, like 3 percent national defense loans.

  10. inkandpages says:

    A balanced post indeed. Nothing will change as long as America is ruled by the money of the 1 percent, the law that says corporations are people, and money is the only free speech. Not as long as only the 1 percent has free speech and it’s backed by Wall Street, militarized police, the media it owns, and a relentless agenda toward slavery.

    Occupy is anti-leader. That’s because leaders always find a way to centralize everything in a top-down, mono-thought hierarchy. Where will the lynchpin come from that the 99 percent can pull to finally tilt things toward justice and horizontal, responsible self-governance? It may be that it’s already in the works and just hasn’t materialized yet. It comes down to this: Our world will get better. If we make it.

  11. Loved your briefing, as an Occupy Pdx activist myself. Thanks for the acknowledgment/support, and congrats on the Fresh Press!

  12. Mr.Meyer,l think your post is untimely published .Is this the civilized way to solve our economy’s problems?This is the mentality of 1918.

  13. Freedom, by the way says:

    I never got my hands around what OWS was really protesting or what they stood for. Capitalism isn’t a dirty word, and in fact, is what built the wealthiest nation on earth, but it, like anything else, is open to abuse. I was suprised that the recent anniversary OWS wasn’t focused on protesting QE3, the feds recent move to flood new money into the banking system, resulting in even more depreciation of every dollar in personal bank accounts. We all feel it every time we purchase groceries or fill up our gas tanks. I hold the federal government and the global shadow government (ie. Soro’s of the world, which includes many “wall streeters”) responsible. An economic crash is coming and it will arrive much sooner and much more harshly if Obama and the Dems remain in control. I have no idea if Romney’s policies can help us avoid the coming train wreck, but I know Obama’s cannot.

    • There were a lot of causes and claims represented by Occupy activists, mostly grouped under the broad banner of reducing egregious political and economic inequality. Defending the currency or warding off inflation in the future certainly weren’t among the 100 or so most salient issues to the Occupiers–it’s hard to think they should have been. Meantime, the broad policy outlines that Governor Romney is promising: reducing tax rates, regulation, and spending (except on the military), have been the core of Republican governance since 1980. We have a pretty good idea of how likely he would be to follow through on some of those policies and what outcomes they would produce; it’s not very encouraging.

  14. colinsydney says:

    the occupy movement lacked a leader with true convictions and goals. It was a great movement but was ultimately bound to fail. The question truly should be “what was it about?” unless and until someone answers this question, the movement will remain unimportant. And the tea party movement, no matter how wrong their ideals might have been, or how misinformed they might have been, will trump the occupy movement.

    • I think you are right because the Tea Party was willing to compromise enough to unite and find ways to work in the system. Occupy never did that.

      • Large and well-financed national groups steered the Tea Party into more conventional politics, and most of the Tea Partiers went along willingly, even as they’ve been disappointed. Either strategy (purity versus pragmatism–of a sort) carries serious risks.

      • colinsydney says:

        no wait. i did not mean that the tea party was better because they compromised. because they are the least compromising party in the system. i mean the the tea party got more traction because they were successful in uniting under one banner and ideology. i do not agree with the tea party and i believe that they are playing dirty politics. misleading the people into believing a rhetoric that is factually wrong is the tea party motto. what the occupy movement needs to learn from the tea party is to unite and find a common theme to their protest. they need a leader. that is all i meant.

      • Colin, I did not think you were agreeing with the Tea party itself. However, in their ability to unify a movement the Tea Party has done a better job than Occupy. I agree with you that, on the whole, the Tea Party is a pretty disgusting group of politicians. When a group says ‘compromise is when you agree with all of my talking points,” there is no way anything will get accomplished.

      • colinsydney says:

        oh. sorry! i guess i misunderstood.

      • I’ve been obsessed with this one too. The Tea Party exercised a great deal of influence in the Republican Party, but that influence may have the paradoxical effect of stopping the Republicans from winning an election that should have been competitive. What’s more, should Gov. Romney lose, the dominant narrative on the right is likely to be that he wasn’t conservative and tough enough. The Tea Party may run itself right out of influence as well.

      • colinsydney says:

        yes. the tea party’s integration into the republican party is going to be the reason for the republicans failure. i believe they did not understand the movement completely. they could not comprehend the extend of the anger which turned into a non violent militancy. the tea parties no compromise policy will ruin the system of democracy. Romney as a liberal republican is likable. but his changing policy stance to win the election will come to bite him in the ass. more worrying is his lack of empathy towards the poor. the people have gotten fed up of the tea party and i believe their ignorant politics will be short lived unless they evolve according to the need of the state.

      • That is what I thought I was responding about. I did not mean to insinuate that you believe in the Tea Party movement. How such a contentious group managed to unite is beyond me.

  15. zachbissett says:

    Let’s see what % of the youth vote shows up this year. If it’s less than a quarter again Occupy hasn’t changed much.

  16. madhaus7 says:

    Excellent piece of journalism. Really well done. Wow, that last paragraph is beautifully written. I also was drawn to, “They refused to build formal organizations, open national offices, or endorse candidates, emphasizing the grassroots as an alternative approach.” This is a unique bit of information that sums things up nicely for me, a person who was never quite sure what was going on with the Occupy movement other than people forming and camping out.

    I can only hope the individual messages reach wide audiences. The Occupy movement at least allows for a platform for young people to voice their individual concerns. Thank you for the post!

    • You know, Occupy Atlanta or Iowa or Irvine will end up being the formative political experience for a whole lot of young people, and some of them will be doing interesting things in the future.

  17. Good Article. It would be good to keep in mind that IF the Occupy movement did formalize its direction and leadership that this could be the first nail in the coffin of something with great potential. Consensus models are difficult to employ, especially if you are unexperienced or need to apply it to something large like OWS, but to appoint a leader or committee or whatever is to add a head to the movement and necessarily add a top down structure. There is a 100% chance that there will be voices within the group that will be drowned out even in a truly democratic process which is oppressive and many would consider a form of violence. A rigid structure may effective as it is the accepted model of business today but it also honours the system that Occupy wishes to topple.

    Another problem with leftist movements in history is that they disintegrate fairly quickly due to lack of cultivation of new gernerations of leadership and even if there is a structured environment pushing a cohesive mandate there is due to be dissent within the ranks. Look at the Weather Underground in the 1970’s which was born out of the Students for a Democratic Society as a kind of radical splinter group.

    Seems like a bit of a catch 22 here with no easy answers to be had.
    Would be interested to hear your thoughts on this David. Coming from the realm of Soc and Poli Sci this would be a great place to cook up some praxis.


  18. william wallace says:

    It being a occupation of the heart / thus the outcome guaranteed.

    They can go on & lose a million battles /they’ll will still win the war.

    Their weapons be that of / LOVE / COMPASSION / THE DESIRE

  19. I love this!! Reblogging it without a doubt and with your permission! Kudos.

  20. armenia4ever says:

    I think we may have made a mistake in who we chose to target exclusively. Do we need to target WS with our protests? Yes. We also need to target the government, namely Washington D.C. for being in bed with corporations for so long and having created with them this fake corporate capitalism.

    The problem I’m seeing is how quickly OWS ends up being hijacked by progressives. OWS isn’t about Unions, Equal Rights, ect. What its about, or at least what I was led to believe it was about, is telling the government that they need to stop giving special treatment to their big business donors and law firms while the rest of the mom & shops down the street suffer. We need to call out both politicians regardless of what party they might belong to when they advocate and vote for things like the Patriot Act, NDAA, the anti-piracy legislation, ect.

    OWS can’t not become a dem grassroots movement. If anything it should hopefully become the formation of a 3rd party that offers alternative ideas to that of Neo-Con Statists and Socio-progressive fascists. (Ignore the negative connotation of the word fascist, rather look at what fascism has in common with both political parties)

    • That is a great way of putting this situation as the unions or special interest groups, like “make marijuana legal,” and gay marriage, while being valid issues, took the steam out of the general premise: move the money away from these institutions that act as arbiters of all the power and money. -‘tarotworldtour’

  21. The North American Occupy locations were more or less universally shut down in November 2011 through some kind of coordinated effort from the centre. In Vancouver, British Columbia, the movement started very diverse and middle class but quickly descended into a marginal group of druggies and hipsters with too many piercings … the second that happens, there will not be any crossover support from Establishment people on the fence.

    The most lively places I saw in this past year for Occupy were in Germany. Hamburg has more of an information centre and Frankfurt, at the base of the European Central Bank, is a campaign headquarters. It was mostly marginal people, students, and tourists going there, but it was less off-putting than what I saw in Canada and the US.

    The most effective protest may have been Bank Transfer Day, which was November 5th last year. If you are in North America, it makes sense to boycott places like Wal-Mart, and everywhere, make your spending as confusing, local, and ethical as possible. -‘tarotworldtour’

  22. robjatk says:

    Reblogged this on Rob's Writing Page.

  23. lydnem says:

    Where would we be without Wall Street though!

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  26. Look at social media (especially twitter). This movement needed human faces to really get off the ground. Occupy Wall Street finally put some faces (albeit mostly anon faces) and propelled others to become involved. Now we have occupy interest all over the country and even the world. It’s not just subjected to the United States.

  27. James Neal says:

    I am glad that someone else still has an interest in this issue. America’s people have long been absent in the political tiger cages. And while I don’t believe the movement is dead, (for it has sparked more letters, email, and online activism than the government has had to answer to in generations), I do believe (the movement) has grown up.
    There are clearer messages now, just not under the banner of Occupy. Thank you for the post, I did enjoy it. I wrote my post about it here, if you have time:
    I’m fairly new to commenting on other blogs, I hope this is not a faux pas.

  28. Panama says:

    A year ago, on October 1, 2011, ecstatic that the 99% had begun occupying Wall Street, brave activists here in Washington DC began occupying McPherson Square on K Street, the corridor where corporate lobbyists, bankers, and the 1% come to wield their power. On October 6, more fearless members of the 99% began occupying Freedom Plaza in downtown DC, about ten blocks to the south. Two active camps were established with several hundred occupiers between the two of them. They survived the snow and rain of winter and persecution from the police, until the police violently raided the camps in the second week of February 2012.

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