Two years ago today something remarkable happened. A group of Americans, mostly young, mostly educated, gathered in a privately owned park in Lower Manhattan and elected to occupy it. The Occupy movement grew and before they knew it, there was barely a square inch of that block that was not covered by human beings. People camped out in the open, in the early Autumn weather because they were not allowed tents (the police would cut them open with sleepers inside.) In the beginning there were frequent clashes with police that never did go away completely. At first the park’s owners wanted them right out, and later, thanks to public outcry allowed the protesters to stay, though never without some form of harassment. Before very long there were Occupy camps in cities around the world. People were angry from decades of abuse heaped on us by the economic elite, and we weren’t going to take it anymore.
This wasn’t the first time we got off our asses and decided to do something about it. Generations ago the Civil Rights, Labor, and Women’s movements (joined later by the Pride movement) stood up and said “no more.” For a long time, however, we were silent, especially in the face of the slow, steady erosion of our economic rights. We saw over the course of thirty plus years our right to organize stolen from us. Over that period we let the haves gather up so much that the have-nots had no hope in sight. We sat back as laws designed to protect us from the consequences, both intended and unintended, of unrestrained capitalism were chipped away. The vox populi was muffled to a rasping whimper, if even that much.
Then something happened. Shortly before our current Commander-in-Chief took office the economy took a nose dive. Thousands of people were losing their homes. They lost them when their sub prime mortgages became too much to bear. They lost them when they no longer had any money in the hedge funds their financial advisers told them were solid. They lost them when looking for anyway to make up on their bad bets, their bosses sent their jobs oversees. People were outraged and wanted action, and action they got. It was not the kind of action they wanted however, as both mainstream parties, at least on the national level, bent over backwards to make sure those who brought about this crisis did not have to pay the price for it.
So two years ago we woke up. The alarm clock went off when those young people took Manhattan (or at least a park close to the historical financial district.) They were impossible to ignore, no matter how much the mainstream media tried to do so. They gave voice to the voiceless and spread the chant “we are the 99%!” It was a much-needed wake up call, a reminder that together we are mighty, and that our interests are not served by catering to a childish, and often psychotic, upper echelon of our society.
They weren’t perfect. Right from the beginning there were problems with young, white, mostly men controlling the dialogue. I witnessed, in my week there, the voices of people of color silenced. The elected-but-not-really leaders-but-not-really fumbled dealing with problems of sexual assault. Small pockets agreed to a consensus model, but balked when the consensus went against them. Finally the all-inclusive General Assembly, a wonderful idea at heart, became cumbersome and impractical, yet they stuck with it. All in all the Idle No More movement seems to be doing a better job.
That said, Occupy started something important. We needed a change in the narrative. For years we had been told whatever was good for the wealthy was good for all of us. We were fed lies about the invisible hand of the free market. We accepted the hypocrisy of socialism for corporations but laissez-faire for the rest of us. Until these kids started shouting. Until people of all generations started joining them. It has not caught on the way it should yet, but the old excuse of “well, that’s just the way we do it,” is becoming less and less acceptable every day.
So Happy Birthday Occupy, and thank you for getting the ball rolling again. She had gathered dust over the last forty years but you shook it off and threw her down the lane and though you may not have rolled a strike, you got the game going again. I am betting we keep the game going this time and soon, very soon, those that have rigged it our going to need to play fair, if they want what is not just best for them, but us all.
- Robert Reich: Happy Birthday Occupy (huffingtonpost.com)
- FOCUS | Happy Birthday Occupy (readersupportednews.org)
- De Blasio dodges Occupy Wall Street anniversary (crainsnewyork.com)
- Happy Birthday Occupy – OpEd (albanytribune.com)