The Occupy Wall Street Movement A Short-Lived Attempt to Reach Equality with Long-Lasting Consequences

A Brief Background

Occupy Wall Street was a protest campaign that started on September 17, 2011, in New York’s Zuccotti Park. Coining the slogan “We are the 99%,” the movement’s main purpose was to draw attention to economic and social inequality and to eliminate the impact of corporations on policy-making. After all, their motto was derived from the fact that “the top 1 percent of households in the United States own somewhere between 30 to 40 percent of all privately held wealth. And counting”. Interestingly enough, a majority of the participants were white young adults who had college educations and were unemployed. They reportedly had substantial debts that they were unable to pay off. Over the course of two months, hundreds of protesters occupied the park; eventually on November 15, 2011, they were forcibly removed by the New York Police Department However, the movement had long-lasting effects that can still be noticed in the US and all over the world.

The statistics of Occupy Wall Street are as follows:

  • the age of protestors: 24 and under – 23.5%, 25-44 – 44.5%, 35 and older – 33%, 45 and older – 20%;
  • the level of education: college – 60.7%, graduate school – 29.4%, high school or lower – 8%;
  • gender: male – 61%, female – 37.5%, other – 1.5%;
  • ethnicity: white – 81.2%, Hispanic – 6.8%, Asian – 2.8%, African American – 1.6%, other – 7.6%;
  • annual income: between $50,000 and $80,000 – 15%, over $75,000 – 13%, over $150,000 – 2%.

The Movement’s Purpose

Occupy Wall Street was an unprecedented event in the history of the United States, as it was the shortest movement that managed to produce such profound outcomes. The campaign attracted a lot of attention from the media. The purpose of the movement was to attain equality for American citizens in terms of economic and social relations. According to Michael Moore, Occupy Wall Street managed to achieve its aim since it “struck a new nerve, sending a shock wave” through the country. A few hundred young people who initiated the protest and participated in it were doing what many millions of citizens had always dreamed of. Citizens who had lost the “American Dream” and who had no jobs or career prospects proclaimed their desire to change the predominating state of affairs in the country. One of the criticisms of the movement was that it did not follow any strategic pattern. Protesters did not have a hierarchical organization. Neither did they have a leader, speakers, structure or designated responsibilities. Yet, the voices of the people were heard.

The investigation of the movement’s legacy on its second anniversary reiterated the conclusions made by analysts. Although income inequality had grown, allowing the top 1% of Americans to earn 19% of household income, Occupy Wall Street altered the way “the country talks about the economy.” The protest helped to ingrain in the national conscience the notion that the existing inequality levels were unacceptable, and that people had the right to demand a change. Even if the movement did not put an end to global capitalism, it has been argued that it provided the public with the right vocabulary to start a dialogue. As Wagstaff stated, the slogan “We are the 99%” had much more power to unite citizens than any lecture could have. According to researchers, the purpose of Occupy Wall Street was reached with the help of unusual approaches and passionate participants who believed in what they were doing and, were convinced that they were doing it right.

Occupy Wall Street as a Springboard for Other Movements

The popularity of Occupy Wall Street made Americans feel more optimistic and hopeful, which led to the rebirth of movements such as progressivism and radicalism. As a result, the protest became a springboard for the “renaissance” of the United States labor movement. As Pham Binh remarks, Occupy Wall Street mobilized “more workers and oppressed people in four weeks than the entire American socialist left has in four decades combined.” The movement grew into an uprising that significantly changed the political landscape of the country. Even though the protest was put to an end, its ideas were scattered all across the country and encouraged oppressed workers to unite their power and promote initiatives that would improve their lives. According to Pham Binh, new movements do not consider themselves successors of Occupy Wall Street, but they would not have appeared without its “heroic example.”

There have been several reflections of the 2011 protest in recent labor movement developments. After Occupy Wall Street, labor unions’ ideology evolved to focus on “solidarity, collective action and questioning of managerial authority.” Initiatives have been undertaken to deal with the existential crisis faced by labor unions. With the help of Occupy Wall Street’s success, these projects offer “glimmerings of hope” that the labor movement can use to recover its legitimacy and to prevent from fading into obscurity. The impact of Occupy Wall Street on the progressive changes in the labor movement was crucial to drawing attention to wealth and income inequality. As a result, attempts have been made in the United States government to raise the minimum wage, regulate part-time workers’ schedules, and provide paid sick days. However, not all of these rebirths have been pleasant to the public.

Occupy Wall Street and Antifa

Antifa is an anti-fascist movement that is known for its violent and anarchist sentiments. The group supports communism and expresses antipathy to capitalism. They claim to represent an attempt to eradicate the “American Plantation.” The representatives of Antifa contend that slavery exists in every minority community. Still, like with Occupy Wall Street, there is a significant number of white members. According to Tim Bryce, the supporters of Antifa want freedom and liberation, but they want these “on their own terms” rather than the way they were defined by the Constitution. Interestingly, although this movement is not peaceful, it is believed to have originated from the nonviolent Occupy Wall Street Movement of 2011. Occupy’s aim was reaching social and economic justice, and Antifa members claim that they are trying to accomplish the same. Sadly, the perspectives of Antifa and its predecessor could not be more opposite. While both are seemingly striving for social and economic equality for people irrespective of race and ethnicity, their execution could not be more different. Occupy was all about peaceful protests, although it did get rowdy towards the end, meanwhile Antifa applies the word “fighting” for a cause quite literally. For example, one current Antifa member is facing felony charges after bashing an innocent bystander in the head with a bike lock. Occupy, as the name implies, was about people camping out and occupying space on the street, not causing a riot.

What now?

As great as Occupy Wall Street was for creating commotion in the public and fostering new movements that followed, more can be done. Actions speak louder than words, and as the gap between the lower and upper class grows, the right kind of advocacy needs to be employed. But the way in which groups like Antifa have been conducting themselves is not acceptable. As a community of proud New Yorkers, in the city of “equal opportunity” we need to rise and take action in an effective, but positive manner. Current groups advocating to break the current hourglass economy could learn a thing or two from the mistakes of the past. We need more than a dialogue and less violence; but most importantly, we need change. There are a variety of groups that are currently attempting to close the wealth gap such as Strike Debt, Fight for $15, and the National Committee for Pay Equity. The Strike Debt movement actually developed from Occupy. The movement is focused on the 99% helping one-another and “chipping away at Americans’ crippling debt.” One of their current initiatives includes “The Rolling Jubilee” in which they randomly free certain debtors by buying their debt and eradicating it. Their actions are noble and have the potential to gain support globally; hopefully, within years their expansion can make a dent in the rising wealth inequality.