Thoughts for the Second Anniversary of Occupy Wall Street
Continued from previous page
Early in Thank You, Anarchy, Schneider cites a participant, Mike Andrews, talking about how that key tool of Occupy, the General Assembly, with its emphasis on egalitarian participation and consensus decision-making, was reshaping him and the way he looked at the world: “It pushes you toward being more respectful of the people there. Even after General Assembly ends I find myself being very attentive in situations where I’m not normally so attentive. So if I go get some food after General Assembly, I find myself being very polite to the person I’m ordering from, and listening if they talk back to me.”
This kind of tiny personal change can undoubtedly be multiplied by the hundreds of thousands, given the number of Occupy participants globally. But the movement had quantifiable consequences, too.
Almost as soon as Occupy Wall Street appeared in the fall of 2011, it was clear that the national conversation had changed, that the brutality and obscenity of Wall Street was suddenly being openly discussed, that the suffering of ordinary people crushed by the burden of medical, housing, or college debt was coming out of the shadows, that the Occupy encampments had become places where people could testify about the destruction of their hopes and lives. California passed a homeowner’s bill of rights to curtail the viciousness of the banks, and in late 2012 Strike Debt emerged as an Occupy offshoot to address indebtedness in creative and subversive ways. Student debt suddenly became (and remains) a topic of national discussion, and proposals for student loan reform began to gain traction. Invisible suffering had been made visible.
Change often happens by making the brutality of the status quo visible and so intolerable. The situation everybody has been living in is suddenly described in a new way by a previously silenced or impacted constituency, or with new eloquence, or because our ideas of what is humane and decent evolve, or a combination of all three. Thus did slavery become intolerable to ever more free people before the Civil War. Thus did the rights of many groups in this country -- women, people of color, queer people, disabled people -- grow exponentially. Thus did marriage stop being an exclusive privilege of heterosexuality, and earlier, a hierarchical relationship between a dominant husband and a submissive wife.
When the Silent Speak
Occupy Wall Street allowed those silenced by shame, invisibility, or lack of interest from the media to speak up. As a result, the realities behind our particular economic game came to be described more accurately; so much so that the media and politicians had to change their language a little to adjust to -- admit to -- a series of previously ignored ugly realities. This, in turn, had consequences, even if they weren’t always measurable or sometimes even immediately detectable.
Though Occupy was never primarily about electoral politics, it was nonetheless a significant part of the conversation that got Elizabeth Warren elected senator and a few other politicians doing good things in the cesspit of the capital. As Occupy was, in part, sparked by the vision of the Arab Spring, so its mood of upheaval and outrage might have helped spark Idle No More, the dynamic Native peoples' movement. Idle No More has already become a vital part of the environmental and climate movements and, in turn, has sparked a resurgence of Native American and Native Canadian activism.
Occupy Wall Street also built alliances around racist persecution that lasted well after most of the encampments were disbanded. Occupiers were there for everything from the Million Hoodie Marches to protest the slaying of Trayvon Martin in Florida to stop-and-frisk in New York City to racist bank policies and foreclosures in San Francisco. There, a broad-based housing rights movement came out of Occupy that joined forces with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) to address foreclosures, evictions, corrupt banking practices, and more. Last week a conservative warned that "Occupy may soon occupy New York's City Hall," decrying mayoral front-runner Bill de Blasio's economic populism, alleged support for Occupy, and opposition to stop and frisk (while Schneider warns that the candidate is a liberal, not a radical).