HAROON ATCHA // POLITICAL COLUMNIST
It’s now been about two years since the beginning of the Occupy movement. Just two years since NY’s Zuccotti Park was filled with protesters and the Chicago Federal Reserve was picketed. Since then, phrases like, “The 1%” have become a part of our everyday speech. Topics of wealth inequality and banking regulation have snuck into our minds along with calls for reform on both of these fronts. Where do we stand two years later though? What’s been the lasting impact of the Occupy movement, if any? After all, every movement regardless of size aims to change something; in fact, you could argue that the effectiveness of any movement can be measured by the success they have in changing the world around them. So how much has the world really changed thanks to the Occupy movement? If you ask this columnist, not very much at all.
I suppose the biggest issue that I take with the Occupy movement isn’t its message, but its organization. When I look at the movement, I see some of our bad traits as a generation coming together. All of those mostly inaccurate things the media accuses us of can be found in spades in the Occupy movement. The tendency to get riled up over a topic we aren’t informed on is just one of those bad traits. Lack of organization, short attention span and general ineffectiveness also impact the legacy of the movement. The most frustrating part though was watching all of that potential fade away. In those first few months, it really seemed like our generation was coming into its own. It seemed as if we had finally found our voice and were on the cusp of changing the political landscape. Regardless of whether you agree with the principles of the movement, it was refreshing to see people our age express their frustrations candidly. But the months dragged on and while popularity of the movement definitely increased, its energy never manifested into anything.
In short, the movement didn’t accomplish anything substantial. There is no law we can point to whose inception can be traced directly to Occupy. There are no candidates in office right now who are open supporters of it either. Occupy today is just a shade of its former self; operating in quiet corners, supported by only the most diehard followers. If I had to assign blame for its ineffectiveness however, I would probably point to the reluctance in getting involved with the political machine. One of the main tenants of the movement was change from the outside, but in my eyes, this is exactly what brought down the movement. By refusing to take part in the political process, Occupy cut itself off from a very powerful medium for change. In fact, when I think of what Occupy could have led to, I think of the Tea Party.
While the philosophies of the Tea Party and the Occupy movement are miles apart, I think the Tea Party serves as a good example of what can happen when you organize. The Tea Party, much like the Occupy movement, has no centralized leadership or mandatory tenants of belief.
Yet, it is a grassroots organization that aims to exert its influence on the political process. Here’s where things differ though, while the Tea Party had massive rallies just like the Occupy movement, the Tea Party turned that momentum into real influence in congress. Tea Party candidates were elected in droves in 2010 and while their influence is waning now, they still hold considerable sway over the Republican Party. The political landscape was substantially changed by their actions and to this day, having a candidate backed by the Tea Party isn’t entirely unheard of. Basically put, the Tea Party achieved lasting power while Occupy’s role in politics has been fleeting.
Hindsight is 20/20 of course, but I want you to know that I don’t criticize Occupy needlessly. Two years on, I feel fairly comfortable in saying that Occupy isn’t coming back, at least not in the same way. Its time has passed and now that we stand quite a bit away from it, we can learn from its mistakes and take away some important lessons. Occupy, regardless of what side of the argument you were on, was our first experiment in mass involvement as a generation; it’s a step we needed to take. We made our mistakes and that’s OK, because now it’s time that we learned from them. Much like riding a bike, nobody gets it right away.
You take your bruises and skinned knees and you try again. I think it’s time we get back on that bike.