The Occupy movement -- which held its official one-year anniversary on Monday, September 17, 2012 -- was/is famous for its frustrating inability to define itself or famous for its inability to be defined. It depends not only on the lens with which someone attempts to view the moving target, but one’s proximity to its centre. It was either the best thing ever invented or the whole '60s jammed into a month and a half.
I do know there are a lot of Occupy diaspora walking around who have an interesting opinion of the movement from an inside perspective just as there are people whose proximity to the encampments and movement varies for geographical, social and political reasons. Both opinions are valid.
So here I sit, a year later, preparing to weave together a narrative of 14 independent, intelligent voices.
Fourteen little tents that house 14 different opinions of Occupy. I will identify the voice of the speaker but will only fill in other information as contextually needed; for example U.S citizenship.
If you recognize the name, great. If you don’t, even better.
I think we’ve heard enough of what prominent Canadians and Americans think of Occupy, it’s time for everyone else.
For the most part, the responses are upbeat and hopeful in nature. I am not sure if that’s 100 per cent the nature of the experience or the result of nostalgia. Others are more cautious regarding their optimism. Megan Kinch described Occupy as, “Great party, horrible hangover.”
My intention is for this article not to be a list, but I want to add as little editorialization as possible. I’m not sure I’ll succeed in pulling together all these threads, which might actually just illustrate the true nature of Occupy.
Cathryn Atkinson (rabble.ca's Editor when the Occupy movement started in 2011), pointed out an interesting perspective on the birth of Occupy and the inevitability of resistance -- and the nature of that resistance which revealed itself to be much like the human spirit that bore it. She said, “if the Occupy movement hadn’t developed in the form it did, it would have found some other way and used another name. It was time. The validity of the estrangement, anger and outrage of all those now organizing under its aegis cannot be denied -- this is a movement with many sources.
People all over the world want alternatives to the huge political, economic, environmental and social messes that have been made by those with the most power. It is a classic push back against an ideology that has destroyed many lives.
One of the things I like about Occupy also happens to be one of the things that has paradoxically made it fragile and prone to uncertainty, that it was very organic and evolving. People who have gotten the most from it have learned a new way forward.”
Regarding lasting impacts, Occupy changed the way activists conduct themselves.
Sakura Saunders stated that Occupy was anything but a business-as-usual experience, which itself was transformative. She writes, “I think that the lasting impacts of Occupy are that it was an entry point that activated many people, especially in North America. For those that participated in Occupy, it was a life-changing experience, and even if it doesn't carry on in its current form, I'm sure that its impacts will ripple throughout social organizing for years to come.”
Respondents described experiencing that same spirit of newness and the risk and thrill of uncharted territory, whether in social interactions or in personal discovery. With all that potentiality came a feeling of hope.
Cathy Crowe stated that the arrival of the Occupy movement, “provided a crash course in social justice and activism to many who have never been exposed and no surprise -- they got it. We haven't yet seen Occupy's impact in Canada but hopefully it's a seed planted and we will.”
David Heap noted that his experience, “in a relatively small city like London, the Occupy protests startled a number of mainstream people who normally don't pay attention to social issues, and forced them to take note of what was going on. The protests also brought together groups as disparate as trade unionists, disaffected youth (most of those sleeping in the park) and the Council of Canadians.”
Roxy Cohen commented that, “for 40 brief days, I got to experience for the first time, what it was like to live in a democratic, loving society. Now, I know exactly what I want of the world -- Occupy gave me that; it also showed me that despite all the disasters, and exploitation caused by people (particularly Canadians) all over the world, we still have the capacity to be loving, and to do better. I will never stop being thankful for the constant hope this knowledge provides me.”
Other voices from Occupy expressed similar levels of awe regarding what they personally got out being part of the movement, Megan Kinch commented, “I've never been involved with anything as popular as Occupy -- cab drivers refused to take my money if I was going down to St. James, convenience store clerks told me how inspired they were, I remember seeing workers in the back of a truck taking pamphlets as we marched passed and cheering us on. And today you have mainstream media talking about class war. Occupy was crazy and complicated, but I’ve never been involved in anything that had an impact on popular consciousness.”
Damien Boyer rightly added commentary on the dynamic of how Occupy and the message of the 99% confronted the social tactic of othering and the power of social inclusion, bringing attention not just to the consequences of othering but the use of the tactic itself. He said, “the Occupy movement was the single-most empowering experience for the disenfranchised -- for us outside of the white, educated, middle class.”
Jennifer Tourand highlighted the difficulty that Occupy experienced as a physical representation of the 99%, whether the 99% knew itself or could see itself clearly in the first place. “While I support the Occupy movement, I don't think it had a positive impact with 'middle class,' mainstream society. In fact with the pics that were shown of the Occupy camps and the cost of clean-up, I feel it may have alienated the majority of mainstream society. I am grateful that many unions supported the movement as that brought a perception of legitimacy to the 'mainstream' public.”
Judy Rebick, described the skill with which people used the Occupy tactic as a light to focus the public’s attention on certain issues and noted that, “the most important immediate impact of Occupy is that it focused public attention on the enormous income inequalities that neo-liberalism has created but I think the long-term impact will be the radicalization of a new generation who will change the world in ways we cannot yet imagine.”
Many people who responded spoke of the courage to which the spirit of Occupy attempted to navigate society’s awareness levels.
Measuring levels of success Dan Thane Tweyman commented, "while Occupy didn't visibly accomplish its stated goals of tearing down the wall between the haves and the have-nots, instead it managed something altogether more impressive -- Occupy changed the conversation, and got people thinking about class and fairness."
Following up, Derek Maisonville noted the ability that Occupy had in pushing open the eyelids of those individuals who were asleep or afraid or unwilling to look at reality. “I think Occupy forced the issue of confronting our daily complicities onto broader society. Many chose to again close their eyes to their roles, but simply forcing them to again look is more than many a (Western) movement has accomplished in quite some time!”
Rosalie Sundin from Minneapolis/St Paul, Minnesota gave an in-depth look into the awakening process that occurred within the United States, specifically describing one of the U.S. catalysts of Occupy. “On the whole I support many of the Occupy movement/events. I particularly thought the Occupy Wall Street brought attention to what Wall Street has done to the U.S. economy (and continues to do if they can get away with it), to a lot of people who were the silent majority (those who sat back and grumbled about how the economy was affecting their housing values, 401K, IRA values, etc., but not trying to understand what a bundled mortgage derivative was and how that whole scam brought down the economy at the end of 2008, etc.)
The other Occupy movement that I thought was very well intended and could go a long way was the Occupy foreclosed/pending eviction properties actions.
So many people were victimized by lenders and over-scaled adjustable rate mortgages -- whether they "should" have known better but didn't, or were aware of but went along with what the lenders were doing to fudge the lines on their loan applications.
So, in a nutshell ... I would say that the Occupy movement led many people to stop and listen, to read up on exactly what all the fuss was about -- what derivative mortgage bundling was, how AIG was involved in insuring those bad mortgages for investment bankers, while those same investment bankers were betting against those bundled mortgages, and then selling them off as investments to other unwitting people and other honest investment firms, who THOUGHT they were holding investments of value. Until it all went to hell in a handbasket.
Hope I did not overwhelm you with all of this. I am not a curmudgeon, even though I might have sounded like it. I am the most liberal damn-near-60 year old I know. But I am terribly frustrated by the indifference of others around me, and people blaming others for things they could have and should have helped avoid.”
Overall, it was the awareness-raising potential of the Occupy tactic that was the most successful aspect of the Occupy movement.
Chelsea Flook highlighted how Occupy changed the political landscape of awareness and called out the adversary of the 99% for what it really was: “I think one of the most obvious impacts the Occupy movement had on mainstream society would be countering the neoliberal austerity agenda, familiarizing folks with an analysis, albeit flawed, of economic inequality of the 99%. It also further legitimized direct action as a necessary tactic in the face of ever-increasing criminalization of dissent, and continued political marginalization of the 99%. More subtler impacts would include a broader familiarity with direct democracy, and a better understanding of the necessity of leaderless movements in the face of increasing surveillance."
Sage Indigo summarized what participation in Occupy represented. “Occupy reawakened hope that individuals could change the system. Please note that the tactic of deciding not to decide is indeed a choice. When I was young a man, a man I respect taught me that there may not be many things that you are for, but there are a lot of things you are against, be sure to stand up against things and not just accept them for your own good.”