Pamela Powers Hannley, a progressive voice for Arizona
What began on Sept 17, 2011 as an extended sit-in in a park in Manhattan– the bastion of US capitalism– the Occupy Movement grew into a worldwide movement with a simple message, “We are the 99%.”
And we are oppressed by the 1% who own the world’s wealth.
Occupy’s we’re-all-in-this-together– regardless of age, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, ability, or location on the globe– message presented an ah-ha moment and raised the class consciousness of millions of people.
Although small-scale compared to big-city encampments, Occupy Tucson was one of the longest running, ongoing encampments and one of the most harassed by local police and one of the most ignored by the local media. Hundreds of tickets for violating park curfews were issued to Tucson Occupiers in nightly park sweeps. At one point in 2011, more Occupy tickets had been issued in Tucson than in any other US city– except for New York City.
Today, Occupy Tucson lives on– not in the parks– but in a small office in the Alliance for Global Justice headquarters, where several activist groups share space. Well-known local Occupiers and their allies regularly speak out or organize actions related to ending corporate personhood, stopping Citizens United, building a sustainable community, ending drone warfare, stopping genetically modified foods, and other issues of the day.
So what did all of that occupying, camping, marching, blogging, Tweeting, and protesting accomplish? A lot, really, when you think about how the world has evolved in the past 2 years.
Through chants, mic checks, teach-ins, general assemblies, and community, Occupy taught us about free speech, freedom of the press, self-governance, police oppression, and the power of the people.
It taught us about corporate personhood, home foreclosures (“Banks got bailed out, we got sold out.”), the excesses of Wall Street gamblers, and the oppression of the 99% by the 1% and the government they have purchased through unfettered campaign donations.
Moreover, Occupy showed us new ways to govern and self-police. The ubiquitous general assemblies– which could be lengthy and sometimes circuitous in speech and reason– were, nonetheless, highly democratic. In fact, the democratic nature of Occupy is a far cry from the jack-booted policies imposed on protesters by Republican-controlled legislatures recently. The “stacks,” which ordered speakers, allowed everyone to speak their mind– regardless of who they were or what they looked like. You could find a college professor (with letters behind his name) waiting patiently while a homeless person (with street experience behind his ideas) spoke. In a “why I occupy” speech, I heard a middle-aged woman recount how she became depressed and despondent over the loss of her home to foreclosure but found support and strength in numbers through Occupy. Community sprung up as college students and lifelong political activists sat and listened in the grass at Veinte de Agosto Park.
Locally, Occupy Tucson opened our eyes not only to the political messages about wealth disparity and inequality but also to basic poverty-related social problems– particularly homelessness, mental health care, and hunger. The homeless have been living in Tucson parks and on our streets for decades. When Occupiers moved in, they became a lifeline for many street people– providing free food and informal crisis management.
In one of her “Notes the Occupation,” activist and then Green Party Mayoral Candidate Mary DeCamp wrote:
“Occupying these past 2 weeks has really opened my eyes to the numbers of severely mentally ill and homeless people shambling around our streets. Our presence in the park protects them from the ravages of “bum fights”, prostitution, and other indignities they suffer just to scrap together the money they need to survive. We feed and shelter them, just like Jesus would have done. Think of how much money is spent on arresting, prosecuting, defending, incarcerating, and probating Tucson’s most at-risk population. Or the costs of emergency room services that the City has to pick up. We provide preventative measures that SPARE THOSE COSTS. We, the people, are providing services that Big Government and Big Business can’t seem to deliver effectively.”
Occupy Ripples through Our Collective Consciousness
The spirit of Occupy still ripples through our collective consciousness, through our political discourse in the US, and through the streets– primarily in Europe and the Middle East but occasionally here at home.
Beginning with the Arab Spring and hundreds of thousands of protesters in Tahrir Square in Egypt in January 2011 and flowing to anti-austerity protests in Europe, pro-union protests in Wisconsin in February 2011, and Occupy Wall Street in September 2011, the last two years have seen unprecedented, worldwide unrest and dissatisfaction with the status quo and with corporate oppression of the 99% through government austerity measures and lay-offs, sequestration, and budget cuts to social programs.
With the House of Representatives’ vote last week to cut food stamps by $40 billion and with the current Republican push to shutdown the US government in order to stop healthcare reform, the pro-austerity forces are marching forward– with no regard for the health and welfare of millions of Americans who will go hungry and/or go without needed medical care if they succeed.
On the Truth-Out.org blog, activists Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers write about the influence of Occupy and the growing resistance movement.
Despite the lack of corporate media coverage, the movement is deepening, creating democratic institutions, stopping some of the worst policies from being pushed by the corporate duopoly and building a broad-based diverse movement.
This is not to say things are getting better for the 99 percent; in fact, quite the opposite is happening. Big business government continues to funnel money to the top while robbing most Americans of the little wealth they had. More Americans are being impacted by the unfair economy and realize that their struggle is not their fault but is the reality of living in a system with deep corruption and dysfunction. Economic injustice is the compost creating fertile ground for the movement to grow.
Too many commentators focus on the lack of encampments and think Occupy is dead. Camping out in public parks was a tactic – it was not the movement or the only tactic of the movement. Too many fail to look at what members of the Occupy community are doing along with other social justice, environmental and peace activists. We report on the movement every day at Popular Resistance so we see lots of activity all over the country on a wide range of issues and using a variety of tactics. And we see a growing movement having a bigger impact…
Rather than disappearing, Occupy has evolved and is bigger and deeper, more connected to communities and other organizations, than it was when there were encampments all over the country.
Inequality and resistance are growing, more from Zeese and Flowers…
The movement continues to grow and broaden because of the very fertile environment created by a government that cannot respond to our demands for a fair economy; that tramples on our Free Speech and other rights and that puts profits ahead of protecting the planet. The hubris and greed of those with unfair wealth has not diminished. They continue to take more, want more and create a rigged economy that serves only them, not all of the people.
The most recent report from the Census, Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2012, shows how the economy continues to be working against the 99 percent. Some key findings indicate that most Americans are getting poorer. There has been an 11.6 percent decline in household income between 2000 and 2012. Median earnings are dropping except for the wealthiest 5 percent of Americans. Despite 46.5 million Americans living in poverty, Congress is talking about cutting food stamps rather than increasing them.
More Americans realize their loss of income means increased profits for corporationsand income for stock-holding wealthy Americans. And, it is not only income that has been lost, but the little wealth most Americans had has virtually disappeared. TheFederal Reserve reported in 2012 that the median net worth of families dropped 39 percent in just three years, from $126,400 in 2007 to $77,300 in 2010. That means the average American lost 18 years of wealth because of the housing crisis. Of course, this affected working Americans, particularly blacks and Latinos, even more severely.
Recent college graduates and current students are at a severe disadvantage. Demos reported:
“Student debt has skyrocketed over the past decade, quadrupling from just $240 billion in 2003 to more than $1 trillion today. If current borrowing patterns continue, student debt levels will reach $2 trillion in 2025.Average debt levels have risen rapidly as well: two-thirds (66 percent) of college seniors now graduate with an average of $26,600 in student loans,up from 41 percent in 1989.The rise of this ‘debt-for-diploma’ system over the past decade was largely caused by the sharp decline in state funding for higher education, which has fallen by 25 percent since its peak in 2000.”
This means that if a student graduates with $53,000 in debt, they will have a lifetime loss of wealth of $208,000. The $1 trillion in debt being carried by today’s millennial generation means they will have $4 trillion less wealth overall. Student debt is already leading to record rates of default and the inability to buy homes. [Read the whole article here.]
Is it time for the rebirth of Occupy? I think so.
A Video Walk Down Memory Lane