Occupy movement continues, success questioned

Success can be defined in a number of ways.  Whether the Occupy movement was successful or not is a complicated and widely disputed question. Do the “99%” feel they have successfully reformed the distribution of income and ended the corrupting effect of money on politics?  Probably not. But have their voices been heard? Indisputably yes.

How can one even define the Occupy movement? It’s impossible to describe in a short sentence. Their list of demands isn’t clear. There isn’t one obvious leader or governing body.   You can’t accurately give the number of how many people are involved.

Does this mean the movement wasn’t worth it?  In my opinion, no. People may have physically left the camps for the winter, and some have left the movement altogether, frustrated by what it’s become.  But the spirit of the movement is still alive. And the impact that it has had cannot be ignored.

The movement began on September 17, 2011 in New York City’s Zuccotti Park as a protest against against economic inequality, unemployment, foreclosures, police brutality, social-security cuts, corruption, the influence of corporations on the government and a range of other issues. They have targeted the housing crisis, banks, Congress, corporate giants, even Black Friday. The protesters have used social media and physical encampments to amplify their movement, and established news outlets have responded in a big way.

People in Portland, Ore. line up for free lunch at the "Occupy Portland" camp.

According to Google Trends, searches for Occupy Wall Street began on Sept. 16 and peaked on Oct. 15. Search interest for Occupy Wall Street jumped ahead of the Tea Party on Sept. 24 and has stayed ahead since then.  The media has portrayed the movement from various angles and perspectives, from extreme resistance to tremendous support and everywhere in between.  But the fact that the movement has been so popular in the media and has become a topic everyone is familiar with speaks volumes about its success.

The Occupy movement saw it's first spark of interest in search on September 16th, and search interest peaked on October 15th. Recently, national search interest has receded.

Although he has only directly alluded to the movement once, President Barack Obama has chosen to focus on the issues the movement stands for on his campaign trail. His speech in Osawatomie, Kansas has been billed as the mission statement for the coming election and confirmed that the Occupy movement would have a lasting political impression:

“I believe that this country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, when everyone does their fair share, and when everyone plays by the same rules. Those aren’t Democratic or Republican values; 1 percent values or 99 percent values. They’re American values, and we have to reclaim them.”

President Barack Obama giving a speech in Osawatomie, Kansas, the town where Theodore Roosevelt gave his "New Nationalism" address.

Some companies have even taken an official stance on the Occupy movement. Ben and Jerry’s has taken an active position in favor of the movement, claiming that the issues raised are of importance to “all of us” and that they are compelled by their company’s mission and values to support the movement.

The movement represents people standing up to take on critical issues of importance. It’s brought together people from various backgrounds and created a community where people can sympathize with one another.  Anyone can get involved, anyone can camp out, anyone can speak on behalf of the movement. And that’s not something you often see.

The Occupy movement has not only spread into small towns across America (including Elon), it has spread across the world. According to CrossCut, a news organization based in Seattle, the movement brings together the local and global.

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“People in cities and towns around the world are setting their own local agendas, tactics, and aims. What they share in common is a critique of corporate power and an identification with the 99%, creating an extraordinary wave of global solidarity.”

And yet, the movement is dwindling down. Where there was once hundreds of demonstrators camped out in a sea of tents, with laundry and kitchen services available to them, there are now a few lone protestors, bearing the cold.  According to WNYC, the funding for the movement is also at a low point. The movement only has about $200,000, but about half of that is tied up in a bail fund for protesters.

As it’s slowed down, the question of whether or not it was successful has arisen.  Some say it could only be considered a success with the defeat of President Obama in the 2012 election.  Others say it would only be a success if the movement presented it’s own political candidates. And still others say success is simply about raising greater awareness and continuing the path the movement is on.

And, according to Occupy organizer Austin Guest, continuing is exactly what the protesters plan on doing.  They are using the winter to unite protesters in other cities, he said, and to plan big events.  These events will include a G8 summit in Chicago, a general strike on May 1., and a “Shut Down the Corporations” protest at the end of February.  They are also planning on protesting at both the Democratic and Republican national conventions.

If the Occupy movement is going to continue, which I think it has the potential to, it needs more structure.  It needs to reform it’s image into an organized group of peaceful protesters with a clear list of demands.  It needs a tangible and realistic end goal. Without this, people will continue to disregard the movement and fail to take what they stand for seriously.


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