Occupy Wall Street: A Surprising Success

I’ve always been interested in finance, and given that I’m going to be pursuing a career in the field post graduation, I found the Occupy Movement to be particularly interesting and relevant to my life. For this reason, I’m excited to share some of my thoughts on the movement and explain how my perspective changed dramatically just from reading one article.

I’m actually also writing a comprehensive chapter on the movement, for one of the assignments in my UGBA 192AC class, and the research I had done up until this point had led me to conclude that Occupy Wall Street was largely a failure.

The aspect of the movement that I thought was most responsible for this failure was the lack of clear demands. I determined that because the movement did not set any concrete goals to achieve, that it was set up for failure and that it ended having achieved nothing.

As I examined the movement in 2017, it was difficult for me to identify anything specific that the movement achieved. However, reading an article on the Atlantic titled, “The Triumph of Occupy Wall Street,” changed my opinion on how successful the movement actually was.

The article highlights several victories that can arguably be attributed to the Occupy Movement. These victories include higher minimum wage, stronger environmental policies, the potential for free community college, and even a heightened interest in campaign finance reform. Although Occupy did not specifically demand such reforms, it did advocate for broad changes, such as reducing income inequality and eliminating corporate influence on politics. What I learned from the article was that Occupy raised awareness about major, structural issues in our society, and that the conversation this spurred eventually led us to achieve many of the successes I mentioned above.

In addition, I realized that the lack of clear demands was not a deficiency of the movement, but that it simply made it difficult for me to pinpoint the many successes that the movement achieved. I now see that Occupy was a pioneer social movement in that by avoiding specific demands, it was able to become everlasting and uniquely impactful.

Lack of Specific Demands

By not making specific demands, the movement allowed people to voice a host of grievances and concerns. A quote from an article titled, “The Inside Story Of Occupy Wall Street,” explains the benefit of this really well :

“Anyone who is at all frustrated with the economy — perhaps even 99% of Americans — can feel that this protest is their own.”

I now understand that not having specific demands was actually one of the main reasons that the movement caught traction, as anyone could identify with the movement and represent their own, specific needs.

Furthermore, I also realized that by not identifying a few main demands, the movement was able to advocate for more fundamental and radical change. Having CEOs fired, throwing people in jail, or having banks reduce compensation may have been satisfying in the short term, and might have even helped solve certain issues, but Occupy strived to advocate for much bigger change.

Income inequality — one of the main issues voiced — cannot be solved through one or two specific actions or policies. I believe that the movement would not have been able to highlight and advocate for solving such grand issues, had it just focused on a few, set demands.

While the lack of demands made the movement harder to understand, I believe that it made it broader, more relatable, and able to advocate for more radical economic and political change.

The Everlasting Impact

I also believe that the lack of demands set the movement up to be longer lasting, even ever lasting. Set demands would have confined the movement to a timeline that revolved around those goals. And if success was determined by a few trivial victories, the conversation could have ended just as easily as it began.

Instead the movement’s lack of specific demands has allowed its message to be continuously molded and reconfigured. For example, income inequality is as large of an issue today as it was when the movement began. We saw firsthand how the message of income inequality — that came from Occupy — was reconfigured and utilized during our current president’s election campaign, so that he could point to a brighter economic future for everyone under his presidency. I believe that the concerns brought up in the original Occupy Movement pertain to many people that voted for Trump.

I also believe that Occupy was the start of a larger conversation, and that it voiced concerns that will likely be relevant for decades to come.

How Occupy is Different

Occupy serves as a unique example of a social movement, in that it chose to advocate for sweeping, fundamental reform, in lieu of a few, specific demands. This decision has allowed it to serve as a pioneer social movement and fight for much greater, social change. In addition, it has allowed the movement to achieve longevity and success that is unique to modern social movements. I have realized that Occupy is an extremely successful movement, and that it will continue to be relevant until we can fix some of the major issues that plague our society.

Works Cited:

  1. Captain, Sean. “The Inside Story Of Occupy Wall Street.” Fast Company, Fast Company, 11 Nov. 2013, www.fastcompany.com/1785918/inside-story-occupy-wall-street.
  2. Levitin, Michael. “The Triumph of Occupy Wall Street.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 10 June 2015, www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/06/the-triumph-of-occupy-wall-street/395408/.
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