Making Sense of Occupy Wall Street

By Barbara Joye

 

The Occupiers: The Making of the 99 Percent Movement

By Michael A. Gould-Wartofsky
228 pp., Oxford University Press, 2015

 

Even as protesters filled Zuccotti Park/Liberty Square in New York City, commentators were analyzing the phenomenon known as Occupy Wall Street (OWS). With The Occupiers: The Making of the 99 Percent Movement, sociology doctoral candidate Michael A. Gould-Wartofsky may have written the definitive book to date. He comes to the subject as a participant-observer, narrating the rise and fall of OWS in a lively, engaging style and sorting out “the kaleidoscope of interpretations” and questions OWS raises. His observations are augmented by quotes from some of the 80 interviews he conducted in New York City and elsewhere.

 

Some of Gould-Wartofsky’s conclusions contradict the corporate mythology that OWS has had no lasting impact in the United States. Instead, he places it within the “99 Percent movement,” to recognize its many antecedents (the Spanish indignados, Tahir Square, the Wisconsin Capitol sit-ins, other NYC mini-occupations, and so on) and the subsequent projects OWS spun off or influenced. Throughout, he emphasizes the fallout from the Great Recession that motivated most of the participants—student debtors with uncertain futures, unemployed and underemployed people, the foreclosed and homeless, beleaguered union members, and disillusioned voters.

 

Occupy_panel.jpg
Left to right: Nelini Stamp, Michael A. Gould-Wartofsky, and Cecily McMillan, Photo by Reid Jenkins.

At a book signing and panel discussion this spring in Atlanta, DSAer Cecily McMillan and organizer Nelini Stamp joined Gould-Wartofsky to comment on OWS’s continuing influence on their lives and political work and on progressive movements throughout the United States. They argued that the influence can be seen in #Black Lives Matter, the Fight for $15, and Occupy Our Homes.

Despite the many differences among OWS participants in terms of ideology and socioeconomic status, says Gould-Wartofsky, their key message—“We are the 99 Percent”—resonated long after police drove them from the park. “Occupy was a catalyst for people to think differently, act differently. . . .We couldn’t go back to normal after Occupy,” observed Stamp, a Brooklyn native who at the time was the youth engagement director for the Working Families Party.

 

McMillan, in 2011 a Young Democratic Socialists National Coordinating Committee member, continued to participate in Occupy-related events following the eviction. Later convicted of a felony for assaulting an officer who assaulted her while she attempted to obey police orders to exit an Occupy reunion in the park, she served two months in Rikers Island prison and became an advocate for prisoners’ rights. She currently lives in Atlanta and is writing a memoir about her experiences, while serving a five-year probation. “It’s never really been over for me,” she says.

 

After working with the Dream Defenders youth action group in 2012, Stamp also moved to Atlanta, where she co-directs Rise Up Georgia, which works on issues such as the criminalization of black people, affordable housing, and public transportation. “I and my co-director Shab Bashiri want to combine the best of traditional organizing, working for real gains for real people, with the excitement of movements like Occupy,” she said.

 

Despite the many contradictions and limitations of OWS, Gould-Wartofsky concludes that its message “enabled the occupiers to bring class back into U.S. politics without alienating U.S. publics. . . . Amid the aftershocks of the financial crisis, the rise of the 99 Percent coalition may well have played a role in the reemergence of class conflict as a force in U.S. politics.” Not the final conflict, not by a long shot. Still, he is hopeful that “the 99 Percent movement is likely to persist, to proliferate, and quite possibly to radicalize in the years and decades to come.”

 

This article originally appeared in the summer 2015 issue of the Democratic Left magazine.

 

For further analysis of the impact of OWS, see Maurice Isserman, “The Legacy of Occupy Wall Street,” Democratic Left Winter 2014 now on the Democratic Left blog site.

  

Barbara_Joye2.jpg Barbara Joye is the recording secretary of Metro Atlanta DSA and a member of DSA’s National Political Committee.

 

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.

DSA Queer Socialists Conference Call

April 24, 2017
· 46 rsvps

DSA is in the process of forming a Queer Socialists Working Group. This call will cover a discussion of possible activities for the group, its proposed structure, assigning tasks, and reports on the revision of DSA's LGBT statement and on possible political education activities. 9 pm ET/8 pm CT/7 pm MT/6 pm PT.

 

Introduction to Socialist Feminism Call

April 30, 2017
· 55 rsvps

Join Philadelphia DSA veteran activist Michele Rossi to explore “socialist feminism.” How does it differ from other forms of feminism? How and when did it develop? What does it mean for our activism? 4-5:30pm ET, 3-4:30pm CT, 2-3:30pm MT, 1-2:30pm PT.

DSA Webinar: Talking About Socialism

May 02, 2017
· 11 rsvps

Practice talking about socialism in plain language. Create your own short rap. Prepare for those conversations about socialism that happen when you table in public.

Join us for our latest organizing training for democratic socialist activists: DSA’s (Virtual) Little Red Schoolhouse.

This training is at 9:00pm Eastern, 8:00pm Central, 7:00pm Mountain, 6:00pm Pacific, 5:00pm Alaska, and 3:00pm Hawaii Time. Please RSVP.

Instructor:

Steve Max, DSA Vice Chair and one of the founders of the legendary community organizing school, The Midwest Academy

In Talking About Socialism you will learn to:

  • Have a quick response ready to go next time someone asks you about democratic socialism.
  • Create your own elevator pitch about democratic socialism and DSA.
  • Use your personal experience and story to explain democratic socialism.
  • Think through the most important ideas you want to convey about democratic socialism.
  • Have a concise explanation of what DSA does, for your next DSA table, event or coalition meeting.

Training Details

  • This workshop is for those who have already had an introduction to democratic socialism, whether from DSA's webinar or from other sources.
  • If you have a computer with microphone, speakers and good internet access, you can join via internet for free.
  • If you have questions, contact Theresa Alt <talt@igc.org> 607-280-7649.
  • If you have very technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt <schmittaj@gmail.com> 608-335-6568.
  • Participation requires that you register at least 45 hours in advance, by midnight Sunday.

 

DSA New Member Orientation Call

May 06, 2017
· 52 rsvps

You've joined DSA - Great. Now register for this New Member Orientation call and find out more about our politics and our vision.  And, most importantly, how you can become involved.  2 pm ET; 1 pm CT; 12 pm MT; 11 am PT.  

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
· 18 rsvps

Join Victoria Bynum, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, Texas State University, San Marcos, to discuss The Free State of Jones. STX Entertainment bought the film rights to Bynum's book of the same title. She also served as a consultant and appears in a cameo scene. What was the Free State of Jones? During the Civil War, an armed band of deserters led by Newt Knight, a non-slaveholding white farmer, took to the swamps of southeastern Mississippi and battled against the Confederacy in an uprising popularly known as “The Free State of Jones.” Joining Newt in this rebellion was Rachel, a slave. From their relationship, there developed a controversial mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended. View the film here for $6 before the discussion. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.