The influence of successful social movements generally plays out over a longer time than the movements themselves.
What happens afterwards is complicated and contingent, and activists aren’t always quick to claim credit for what they’ve done.
Nationally, Occupy effected a short-term but substantial shift in rhetoric, dramatically encouraging President Obama–and other Democrats–to talk about Occupy issues, including employment, education, and debt. When Governor Mitt Romney responded to a question with a discussion of the 47 percent (who would never vote for him), he was responding to an agenda Occupy had set. But the longer term influence of these shifts in rhetoric remains an open question.
Locally, there are already some more concrete results. A report from the New York Post about the surprisingly low rate of crime in Red Hook after Superstorm Sandy credits the Occupy movement. Occupy Sandy was completely invested in community rebuilding efforts in this Brooklyn neighborhood after the storm, and local (unnamed) police praise the activists for helping to keep the peace. The Post reports:
Police sources have credited the drop in crime to an unlikely coalition that included the NYPD, Occupy Wall Street activists, and local nonprofits working together to keep storm victims safe.
“This crisis allowed us all to remove the politics and differences we had to do our job, and come to the aid of the people,” said a police source yesterday. “We all rose to the occasion.”
In Coffey Park, cops worked with Occupiers who set up tents to distribute food, clothes and medicine– and happily went home at the end of the day, rather than camping out. The NYPD blanketed Red Hook with cops, using their patrol cars to light up the powerless neighborhood at night.
For some Occupiers, working with police and local government was a shift in perspective, but one that made sense given their commitment to their communities and grassroots coalitions in support of mutual aid.
Local police and city officials less burdened with current crises, meanwhile, responded to the memories of the public order crises they remembered from the Occupations in the fall of 2011. The Los Angeles Times reports that local governments have made it more difficult for activists to stage protests legally. Frank Shyong reports that:
Occupy protests have prompted cities to tighten restrictions on protesters and behavior in public space in ways that opponents say threaten free speech and worsen conditions for homeless people.
Governments now regulate with new vigor where protesters may stand and walk and what they can carry. Protest permits are harder to get and penalties are steeper. Camping is banned from Los Angeles parks by a new, tougher ordinance. Philadelphia and Houston tightened restrictions on feeding people in public.
Local officials who lived through Occupy have worked to make it harder for an Occupy-like movement to return.
So, what matters most over the long haul? Shifts in national rhetoric? Local goodwill and community connections? Local laws?
Predictions are tough, particularly about the future, but I think the smart bet is always to look at the laws first. Sigh.