The irony is, Occupy Wall Streeters are no longer occupying.
This week, I went over to Zuccotti Park to see what was left of the protest movement. Not much, it turned out. The tents, the sleeping bags, the drums, the food trucks, the noise, the excitement – all gone. After weeks of struggling with authorities and eventually being forced to break down their encampment during a 1:00 a.m. raid on November 15, the protestors have largely dispersed.
In fact, on Tuesday afternoon there were only about twelve people left in Zuccotti Park. They were standing quietly in the square, talking, rolling cigarettes and drinking coffee. One man wore a sign that said, “Quantum Democracy.” Other than that, it would not have been evident that a protest was even going on.
Rhetoric matters in political movements. So while some die-hard Occupy Wall Street protestors still come to the park to express their solidarity, they must now go home at night because they can no longer occupy. To me, the psychological divide between “Occupy Wall Street” and “drop by Wall Street” seems pretty significant.
Bloomfield resident CJ Griffin, who visited Zuccotti Park before the raid, doesn’t agree. In a letter to Patch this week, she discussed the movement’s changing strategy.
“Of course it's nice to have a place to go feel that sense of community, to hold a sign, to feel powerful, to join in. But really, it's about the MESSAGE behind the movement and the unjust facts that lead to such a movement in the first place,” she said. “Ultimately, I think Occupy Wall Street doesn't need a "home" in a park. It's not about a location. It's not about camping out. It's about the movement itself. The message. The revolution.”
If Occupy is a revolution, then the evacuation of the park is merely a pause in the action, with strategy changes and major protests yet to come. Right?
But what if it’s not a revolution? What if it’s just a wavering political movement struggling against forces greater than itself?
To be sure, swept up by the force of the movement, people across the world are still occupying. There are still intact encampments, including one as close as Military Park in Newark. But there are signs that the occupying part of the movement may be coming to an end. As of this weekend, police were shutting down, or threatening to shut down, demonstration sites in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Augusta, Maine and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
Still, if what Griffin says is true, that shouldn’t matter.
“Our financial crisis is deepening. That won’t go away, and neither will this movement,” defiantly declared Manhattan resident Anthony Donovan, standing among other protestors at Zuccotti Park last Tuesday. “Every day different people are coming up with different strategies. A thousand people went up to protest rising tuition costs yesterday . . . [The 1%] will realize eventually that they are part of the ‘we.’ It's going to change. It has to change.”
Frank Vriale, another New York resident who has been a part of the OWS movement since the beginning, agreed. Under darkening skies and a dripping umbrella, he explained, “What we’re fighting for has already changed the dialogue in the United States. There’s no doubt we're going to be successful if this goes the way of all revolutions. And it is a revolution. And it is class warfare.
“There's no doubt that we’re getting somewhere. Look what happened in Egypt. That started small, too.”
Well. The bloody uprising that led to a violent government takeover doesn't appear to have much in common with the peaceful Occupy Wall Street movement, especially as it exists now. In fact, the deserted park seemed like visible evidence that “the powers that be” still had the upper hand.
Not so fast, says Alan Myers, a Bloomfield resident and member of the Montclair-based progressive political movement, Blue Wave NJ.
“People have a First Amendment right to demonstrate and protest,” he said. “There are people who will think we’ve given up. We haven’t given up. We may not be physically back on the streets until the spring, but we’re invested in this movement.”
Myers says he believes Occupy Wall Street will have a profound effect on legislative decisions in the upcoming election year. In fact, he believes it already has.
“I think everything’s that's taking place right now is related to Occupy Wall Street,” he says, citing as an example the veto of the so-called “Right-to-Work” bill in New Hampshire in support of union workers.
“Where do I think this movement is heading? There’s a proposal to put a non-binding resolution on the table that allows people to say, ‘corporations are not people.’ I think there’s an opportunity to bring this to the state level, so that we could ratify the constitution. If corporations are not people, then they can’t vote. I think that’s where this is heading.”
Myers was referring to the landmark Supreme Court ruling of January 2010, in which the deeply divided court blocked restrictions on the amount of money corporations could contribute to political campaigns.
The ruling, “Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, No. 08-205,” overruled two decisions that restricted campaign spending by corporations and unions. The justices based the ruling upon their reading of the First Amendment, saying that the government should not regulate political speech, even from private enterprises.
Myers also contends that a non-tangible but positive effect of Occupy Wall Street is a heightened awareness of fairness and decency among people.
“Hopefully we’re going back to sanity now, in the way people are treated and the way they treat one another, ” he said.
This sentiment was echoed by Vriale. “Everyone here will tell you [Occupy Wall Street is] about the spirit, the moral compass of American society that has gone awry. The definition of virtue -- what you're founding fathers meant by virtue -- is that you give what you have for the common good . . . if you want to get compassion, you have to give compassion.”
But optimistic resilience may not be enough to sustain the movement, much less propel it forward. While Donovan says the Occupiers have begun to meet in office buildings in New York, a recent article in CBSnews.com states that they've rented office space in the Financial District and meet daily at a public atrium inside Deutche Bank.
"Banks, if you don't heed our call, expect to see our tents in your lobbies," warned Los Angeles organizer Mario Brito in that article.
And there is even more evidence that this political movement, far from dwindling, is gathering its forces to make an even greater impact.
On January 17, Occupy Wall Street has announced plans to pitch their tents outside of Congress. According to their Facebook page, the protesters hope to set up 1 million tents in front of the Capitol, a move calculated to coincide with the 2012 legislative session.
“We’re taking the movement straight to their doorstep,” stated the Occupy Congress Facebook page.
Zuccotti Park, it seems, was just the beginning.