Today Marks The Fifth Anniversary Of The Start Of The Occupy Wall Street Movement
Five years ago today, A large group made up mostly of teenagers and young adults stormed Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan. Their goal? Occupy that park with a peaceful, long-term protest. And today, it’s safe to say that their movement, Occupy Wall Street, effectively changed America for the better.
If you time-traveled back to September 16th of 2011 and asked random passersby on any street in America to define “income inequality,” they’d probably tell you it’s when a coworker earns less for the same job, or when a couple argues because one earns more money or less money than the other.
Few understood then that 99% of new income in America was flowing directly to the top 1% of the wealthiest Americans. That wages had stagnated since the 1970’s while costs continued to rise uncontrollably. That big, powerful financial institutions like Goldman Sachs and Bank of America had infiltrated nearly every corner of the government and had obtained the unprecedented ability to write their own laws, to buy their own politicians, to author their own bailouts.
And then came the Occupy Wall Street protests. It started small in New York City on September 17th, but the movement quickly grew and spread to every corner of the United States. Occupy Wall Street camps were springing up in practically every American city. And for a time, it seemed like the movement wasn’t going anywhere.
And then it started to die.
Occupy Wall Street had no real chance of staying alive, and the writing was on the wall for everyone watching from the outside, even the millions of us who openly supported their cause. They had no leadership. Their communication was Neanderthalic. They had no infrastructure, no concern for logistics, no unified message. Occupy Wall Street was crude. Chaotic. A disaster from the word go.
My girlfriend and I used to frequently visit the Occupy camp in Binghamton, New York. Neither of us were willing to participate by actually camping out, but we did join in with their protests. We brought food and blankets. I wrote articles mostly in support of their cause. That was how we got involved. It wasn’t a lot, but hey, it was something.
But in that time spent amongst Occupy’s rank and file, we learned just how disheveled the movement really was. In a brief one-minute span, I counted how many messages I heard. Income inequality. Racial profiling. Save the whales. Petco’s alleged local animal cruelty during Binghamton’s tragic 2011 city-wide flood. The messages were all over the place, and at times, they bordered on wacky conspiracy theories.
When Occupy Wall Street fell apart a few months later, I was disheartened and saddened, but ultimately not surprised. With planning and sensible leadership, OWS could have easily gone on for a year or even longer, but it wasn’t meant to be.
But while Occupy Wall Street’s camps may have deserted, the overarching theme stood its ground: the government is corrupt. The two-party system is doing more harm than good. Income inequality is causing everyday people to suffer immensely. America deserves better. And more people are talking about it, educating themselves, and trying to fight back than ever before, thanks in large part to the OWS movement.
Today, five years later, America seems drastically changed for the better, at least ideologically if not legislatively. Politicians on both sides of the aisle have made income inequality into a serious talking point, for better or worse. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign was historic in far too many ways to count in a single article, and his primary loss to Hillary Clinton is still being challenged by millions of Americans who believe said primary was rigged and stolen, an allegation that gains momentum each and every day.
Thanks to the efforts of the Occupy Wall Street movement, the American public is better educated, more conscious, and more demanding of politicians. Democrats are more willing to question the party establishment and put their ideology ahead of the needs of the party itself. Progressivism is entering a golden age, and we owe a great deal of that to those young protestors who began occupying Zuccotti Park five years ago today.
What will America look like five years from now? No one can say for certain. But one thing I do know is that whatever progress we’ve made in the fights for income equality, campaign finance reform, and financial reforms, we’ll owe a great deal of it to the efforts of the Occupy Wall Street movement… and we’ll probably still have a lot more work to do.