It's been two years since the heyday of the Occupy Wall Street movement. So where are the thousands of activists who took to the streets, calling for revolution and raging against Wall Street, now?
In The Nation, Nathan Schneider follows the lives of some key activists who took part in Occupy Wall Street early on. One started her own compost pick-up business in Brooklyn, where she feels more accountable to the people most directly affected by poverty and racism. Another, Justine Tunney, created the Occupywallstreet.org website but felt burned out by the movement, then fell ill with a tumor. Through a stroke of fortune, she landed a job at Google, where she seems happy:
There’s no health insurance for people who pour their lives into Occupy Wall Street. At first, she looked around for a free or affordable way to get treatment, but there was no good option. And without the right kind of insurance she could end up deep in debt. As if in the nick of time, a recruiter contacted her and set her up with an interview at Google. Eighty hours of studying and seven interviews later, she got the job and the insurance that came with it. The tumor was removed, and the ordeal seems to be over.
“I suppose I pose less of a threat to the system,” Tunney says. “But I don’t have to worry when I walk into the office. I don’t have to think about money.”
She also doesn’t have to deal with flack from the General Assembly. “The people in this company are remarkably productive while managing to maintain a somewhat horizontal work environment,” she commented on a fellow organizer’s Facebook post in June. “We’re also not cruel and disrespectful when working together, and when we have meetings, we don’t scream and physically assault each other.”
I suspect there are many similar stories for Occupy Seattle activists. When I walked into the Seattle Central Community College encampment for the first time in November, there was a pervasive malaise. It was wet and cold. SCCC was maneuvering towards evicting the camp and accused Occupy of harboring drug users. Standing in the rain during the evening's assembly meeting, people interrupted, talked past each other, and nothing seemed to get done.
Still, even then, something felt kinda special.
I had just moved back to Seattle and asked if I could spend the night. One activist calmly led me to an empty tent stocked with a clean sleeping bag and pillow, where I slept soundly. I woke up and broke bread—bagels, actually—with a mix of young college graduates looking for work, middle-aged liberals and veterans, and homeless people.
Nowadays, the group's Twitter feed, which has nearly 14,000 followers, promotes local fast food strikes, anti-foreclosure blockades, and global warming protests—all of which, if not participated in by former Occupy activists themselves, almost certainly took inspiration from the movement. 86-year-old Dorli Rainey, who, along with me, was pepper sprayed in the face by Seattle police the following night at Westlake Park, turns up at many of them.
At the national level, the 1% is part of the popular lexicon and economic inequality is increasingly on the political agenda. Bankster Larry Summers, who looked poised to get the Obama administration's nomination to run the Federal Reserve, just withdrew his name, after organized hostility from liberal Democrats.
Occupy may have been "a constructive failure," as Micah White, a former Adbusters editor, calls it. It may still be "a project in its infancy," as organizer Justin Wedes argues.
Whatever it was, it was worth it.