Their opponents on the right paint them as a fifth column carrying out their liberal paymasters’ orders. Skeptics say they have squandered their political capital amid internal squabbling.
But on the first anniversary of their inaugural protest in lower Manhattan, Occupy Wall Street activists say they aren’t going anywhere.
“There’s no sense at all that the energy is dissipating,” said Lacy MacAuley, 33, who marched in the Occupy Wall Street protest a year ago Monday.
“The energy is of course more mature than it was a year ago. We all know each other now, and we all understand what it means to actually raise your voice amid intense police repression.”
MacAuley was among the hundreds of Occupy Wall Street protesters Monday who descended on Zuccotti Park, the site of an encampment in the heart of the global financial empire that inspired similar protests across the United States and throughout the world. A New York City police spokeswoman said 146 activists were arrested during Monday’s protest, which had aimed to disrupt the New York Stock exchange.
Occupy has attracted a broad spectrum of political factions, including anarchists, environmentalists, and those upset with what they see as the U.S. government’s subsidization of the financial industry at the expense of the masses.
Critics say the movement’s rejection of hierarchy and a unified political platform has led to organizational paralysis. It’s a critique that MacAuley, an organizer of the Occupy DC movement in the U.S. capital, rejects. Occupy, she says, is about tactics-not policy.
“Occupy Wall Street has given an incredible amount of strength to a variety of movements, concerned citizens and activists all over the country-and all over the world-that they didn’t have before,” MacAuley said.
Occupy activist Suzanne Collado echoed MacAuley’s sentiment, saying the movement has provided people of various political stripes with a vehicle to “come out of the shadows” and be heard. Critics are prematurely penning Occupy’s obituary, she added.
“It’s only been a year,” said Collado, who became active in the movement just days after the first Occupy protest on September 17, 2011. “Look at the great movements that shaped history. They were never defined by where they ended up a year in.”
Ralph Young, a professor at Temple University and author of Dissent in America, said Occupy Wall Street remains politically relevant in the United States. Its most significant achievement, he said, has been to propel the issue of social inequality to the forefront of the political dialogue in the United States.
“People have started talking about income equality, whereas before they were only talking about the [national] debt,” said Young. “They have opened up the political discussion. Even the Republicans have started talking about income inequality.”
The movement has made it possible for politicians and public figures to discuss “income and wealth in a way that was not possible a year ago, even though the movement itself has kind of disintegrated,” said Nina Eliasoph, a professor of sociology at the University of Southern California.
Social movements can indeed lose steam if aggressive organizational egalitarianism prevents them from forming coherent strategies for moving forward, Young added.
“If you look back at the civil rights movements, the early protests were spontaneous grassroots actions,” Young said. “There was Rosa Parks, and the Greensboro lunch counter. But then they got a cohesive center and a charismatic speaker. Occupy Wall Street has the grassroots thing, but it hasn’t really gotten to the organization thing yet. They don’t want that. But too much anarchy is not a good thing.”
One enduring achievement of the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon may be the export of the movement’s values to other venues for activism, Eliasoph said. Many of the group’s activists in California, for example, have moved on to pressing for reform of the public university system, she said.