Occupy Wall Street and the Future of Collective Action

by Billy Buntin posted 4/2/2012 2:17:02 PM
Unless you’ve been occupying the underside of a rock lately, you must by now be familiar with the Occupy Wall Street movement and its many spinoffs. A movement that began in September, in New York has spread to over 70 major U.S. cities and hundreds of other communities around the world. Equipped with tents, video cameras and a robust spirit of protest, the occupiers claim to represent the 99% of Americans; with an overarching message that something is terribly wrong with our nation’s economic and political systems.



The activists, organizers, and occupying participants are generally suspicious of top down governing structures, and the movement is itself organized in a
flat/democratic fashion. Even without a clear statement of political goals, the Occupy movement has garnered favorable comparison to the Arab Spring – the revolutionary wave of popular democratic protests that swept the Arab world in 2011. Like any legitimate threat to power, the Occupy movement has been met with considerable state repression and violence across the country. Late last year we learned that the FBI and Homeland Security are coordinating efforts with several mayors and local governments to slowly restrain the threat of the movement in the United States.



The Occupy movement has successfully tapped into the growing resentment of working class Americans, making mainstream media and politicians take notice. Occupy Wall Street recently won a legal dispute over the right to access its headquarters at privately owned Zuccotti Park. Other Occupy locations continue to face similar challenges. The movement played a major part in organizing popular discontent over Bank of America’s decision to impose a five dollar fee on customers, forcing the company to repeal the policy. Perhaps Occupy’s greatest contribution and victory has been in bringing national attention to the oft-ignored plight of working class and poor American families whose incomes and standards of living have further eroded in recent years. The national discussion has shifted and questions of “economic and social justice” have been put back onto the table.



Rounding just its fifth month of existence, the movement has reached a pivotal crossroad and trying to determine its next steps. The Occupy movement must demonstrate that it is more than a short-lived outburst of populist discontent, but rather a lasting vehicle for social, political and economic change. While commentators on all sides weigh in on the movement’s future, the decisions will be made in Occupy’s general assemblies around the country. The movement’s relevance will be best ensured by continuing to represent community-based, “people over profit” values and by providing a needed voice to point out the powerful self-reinforcing structures in our society that marginalize so many and enrich so few.
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