The Occupy Wall Street movement, revered for refocusing the world’s attention on rising economic and political inequality, died peacefully in its sleep after a long winter hibernation. Born September 17, 2011, Occupy grew steadily and spread like wildfire from city to city and country to country before reaching its peak—inhabiting ninety-five cities in eighty-two countries and 600 communities in the United States. Initiated by Canadian magazine Adbusters, Occupy Wall Street was famous for its “human microphone,” its dedication to democratic process and its persevering slogan, “We are the 99 percent.” Whether by fear, anger, worship or respect, there’s not a leader in the NGO or political world who has not been moved or changed by Occupy. Occupy Wall Street is survived by many offspring, including Occupy Our Homes, Occupy the SEC, Occupy Colleges and The 99% Spring.
When asked to write about what the future holds for Occupy Wall Street, I found myself pondering what a future looks like without it. Or at least without the Occupy enshrined in our minds: the one defined by a tactical commitment to seizing and holding public space, an adherence to universal direct democracy and a resolve to clear all decisions through the General Assembly. At first, the exercise felt illicit, as though I might lose my progressive credentials for even giving the thought voice in my head. But as I allowed myself to go there, the act of sedition felt important and empowering. The whispered anxiety I hear about whether Occupy will re-emerge this spring with sufficient force seems misplaced. What’s paramount is to ask: If Occupy died tomorrow, would it have left behind a fundamentally transformed landscape with new players, new methods and new values? The answer to that is an exciting and liberating yes.
Occupy Wall Street has already transformed beyond recognition from its original state. Very few Occupies still hold public space, and the ones that do have lost members through attrition, arrests and extreme weather. The core players are focused on protesting the police repression that many sites experienced in the fall. There’s nothing wrong with self-defense, and police repression is certainly more pronounced in communities experiencing economic and political crisis. Still, this focus relegates the debate squarely within a familiar police versus protesters trope—a tough one for protesters to win, especially at a time when the country yearns to keep economic inequality front and center.