The Legacy of Occupy Wall Street

Three years ago this fall, Occupy Wall Street (OWS) set up its tents in Lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park and hunkered down for a long stay. Occupy has yet to receive the in-depth historical examination it deserves, but one thing that the movement’s chroniclers will almost certainly agree upon is that it “changed the conversation” about income inequality and Wall Street’s economic and political dominance.

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Young Democratic Socialists prepare to march on October 5, 2011, the day Occupy Wall Street and its labor allies shut down the Brooklyn Bridge

The political mix in Occupy sites across the nation varied from locale to locale (and sometimes from day to day), but in almost every site where there was a DSA chapter, DSAers and voices for democratic socialism were involved. The Zuccotti Park encampment got the most media attention. Its prefigurative, counter-cultural style of politics, acting out the utopian future through an anarchist-style (and often glacially slow moving) form of self-government, plus its reluctance to formulate demands, were among the defining features of the New York occupation, but there were political counter-currents beneath the surface, including democratic socialism. Cecily McMillan, a member of the Young Democratic Socialists Coordinating Committee, was present at the creation of Occupy, and argued throughout the fall for it to adopt a set of formal demands. (More recently, she became famous as “the last Occupy defendant,” when she was tried, convicted, and sent to Rikers Island for an alleged assault of an NYPD officer in Zuccotti Park.)

Sarah Leonard, at the time an associate editor of Dissent, was one of the youthful editors of Occupy Gazette, which brought out four issues. Three years on, she remains appreciative of Occupy’s achievements, but also offers an explanation for its dissolution:

There are very few ways that Americans are trained to organize now and very few strong institutions to support growing mass movements. It’s also true that the same anarchist framework that was responsible for creating a surprising, brilliant protest did not have much interest in building mass membership organizations or institutions. Most important, the cops in New York made the protest a scary place to be, particularly for people of color.

Historian Richard Hofstadter once wrote that third parties in American politics (and insurgent social movements more generally) were like bees: they sting and then they die. But what a sting Occupy delivered before its death. Veteran New Left activist Todd Gitlin’s sympathetic outsider’s account, Occupy Nation (2012), traces the shift in Barack Obama’s speeches in the months following the occupation of Zuccotti Park, as the president found it politically expedient to embrace the concerns and even the signature catch-phrases of Occupy. Denouncing the “breathtaking greed of a few” in December 2011, Obama pledged his support for policies that would make the United States a country where “everyone does their fair share . . . ” and “everyone plays by the same rules.” “These aren’t 1 percent values or 99 percent values,” he concluded. “They’re American values. And we have to reclaim them.”

Is Occupy a sustainable model for future protests? Probably not, although vestiges remain in such projects as the Occupy Finance book, the Flood Wall Street demonstration the day after the People’s Climate March, and Occupy Sandy. Is Obama’s conversion to economic populism sincere? Almost certainly not. What needs to be understood, however, is that, because of Occupy, the political terrain has shifted since September 17, 2011, in ways that have provided new opportunities for progressives in the Democratic Party (Elizabeth Warren, Bill De Blasio) who are genuinely concerned with economic inequality. Occupy is dead, but the sting remains.

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Maurice Isserman is the author of several histories of the American left, including The Other American: The Life of Michael Harrington. He was a frequent visitor to the Occupy Utica (New York) encampment in the fall of 2011.

This article originally appeared in the winter 2014 issue of the Democratic Left magazine.

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.

Data Security for DSA Members

June 27, 2017

Ack! I googled myself and didn't like what I found!

WHAT: A DSA Webinar about "Doxing"
WHEN: 9PM EST, 6PM PST

We're proud of our organizing, and chapter work is transparent for both political and practical reasons. However, there are basic precautions you can take in this time of rapid DSA growth to protect your privacy.

Key Wiki is a website that meticulously documents DSA activity and posts it for the world to see. If you're an active DSA member, likely your name is on their website. This is an example of "doxing".

As DSA becomes larger, more visible, and more powerful, we might expect that more websites like this will pop up, and more of our members' information might be posted publicly on the web.

Join a live webinar on Tuesday, June 27 with data security expert Alison Macrina, to learn:

  1. what is doxing? with examples and ways to prevent it
  2. how to keep your passwords strong and your data secure
  3. where to find your personal info on the internet and how to get it removed
  4. social media best practices for DSA organizers
  5. what to do if you've already been doxed

Zoom Link: https://zoom.us/j/9173276528

Call-in Info: +1 408 638 0968
Meeting ID: 917 327 6528

Film Discussion: Pride

September 10, 2017
· 11 rsvps

Join DSA members Eric Brasure and Brendan Hamill to discuss the British film Pride (2014). It’s 1984, British coal miners are on strike, and a group of gays and lesbians in London bring the queer community together to support the miners in their fight. Based on the true story of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. The film is available for rent on YouTube, Amazon, and iTunes. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

Film Discussion: Union Maids

September 24, 2017
· 9 rsvps

 

Join DSA member and labor historian Susan Hirsch in discussing Union Maids (1976). Nominated for an Academy Award, this documentary follows three Chicago labor organizers (Kate Hyndman, Stella Nowicki, and Sylvia Woods) active beginning in the 1930s. The filmmakers were members of the New American Movement (a precursor of DSA), and the late Vicki Starr (aka Stella Nowicki) was a longtime member of Chicago DSA and the Chicago Women's Liberation Union. It’s available free on YouTube, though sound quality is poor. 8ET/7CT/6MT/5PT.