February 21, 2013 | By Sophie Bloemen
Now that the tents are packed up and the banners put away, what’s left of Occupy? Are disillusionment and disappointment with a movement that undertook to change everything but did not achieve any real change all that remain? Laments about a lack of clear demands, a political agenda, structure and leadership have emerged from the writing and discussions of those who were initially sympathizers. It seems, though, that the role and power of the movement rest elsewhere, outside the realm of conventional politics.
A recent paper by academics from the Murphy Institute at the City University of New York found that the Occupy movement has both a historical and a lasting impact. Focusing primarily on the Occupy Wall Street Zuccotti Park encampment in New York, the researchers conclude that its impact continues to reverberate in at least three respects: First, many young people who weren’t politically active have been mobilized. They have become politicized and are likely to continue on a life path involving some type of progressive activism.
The report also mentions the way Occupy has transformed America’s political discourse. Whereas prior to Occupy the growing economic inequality seemed to be accepted as a fact of life and rarely met with indignation from the mainstream media or politicians, it is now firmly on the political agenda. Inequality is no longer taken for granted but is considered an issue that demands addressing. The 99 percent has clearly proven a powerful metaphor. A graph in the study shows how mentions of the term “inequality” in the media, which spiked during the Zucotti Park encampment, have remained significantly higher.
Finally, many of the networks formed by Occupy’s efforts have evolved into initiatives and movements of their own. The authors cite OccupySandy, which organized tens of thousands of relief workers in New York City the day after Hurricane Sandy. Occupy activists also launched several worker-owned-cooperatives, like OccuCopy, a printing and design shop, networks of local farmers through Occupy Farms and Occupy Homes, which organized to prevent foreclosures through 2102. Another noteworthy offshoot is Rolling Jubilee, a debt-relief project that has already raised $556.000 to retire more than 11 million in debt.
The report focuses on the New York-based groups and networks. But Occupy was all over the country; every major city and college campus had a camp, involving a great amount of people all together and producing many offshoots. In Oakland, California, for example, home to the second largest Occupy camp in the U.S., actions against foreclosures have been widespread.
So if you were feeling disappointed with the movement, don’t be. While Occupy might not have been the earthquake you were waiting for, it may only be the first tremor.