Whatever happened to Occupy?

A year ago, thousands converged on Wall Street, leading to a wave of global anti-capitalist protests. Laurie Penny visits Zuccotti Park in New York and talks to the remaining 'Occupiers' trying to rejuvenate the movement

Rina can't sleep. It's two-thirty in the morning and on Wall Street, on a small strip of pavement outside Trinity Church in Lower Manhattan, about 50 people are sleeping rough. They are rolled in blankets and sleeping bags, hoods pulled up around their ears against the drone of traffic and far-away sirens. One police car is on patrol to keep an eye on them. They smoke and ask passers-by for water. Some of them are a bit grubby. A slogan chalked on the pavement reads: "The dirty ones are on Wall Street."

There's a point being made with this strategic sleeping.

"Look, here in the heart of the financial district of the richest city on earth there is still the puzzling problem of homelessness," says Rina, who is 19 and wearing pyjamas under her dress. "There are abandoned spaces in urban centres all over America, and yet people still don't have homes. Why is that?"

One year ago, a few feet down the road, Occupy Wall Street began – the first protest camp at Zucotti park igniting a wave of anti-capitalist, anti-austerity protests across the world, from Melbourne to London. Tonight it's just these few sleepers and one reporter, me, where a year ago you couldn't move for press. What happened between then and now?

Contrary to popular opinion, Occupy never entirely went away. There are still hundreds of people across New York, and thousands across America and Europe, whose lives are still devoted to what became known as the Occupy "movement".

Many gave up everything to be part of the occupations that sprang up across the world and now they have nowhere else to go.

In the city where it all started, regular meetings still take place, and organising is going on in the boroughs, but media interest has dwindled. Celebrities and big brands are no longer falling over themselves to access this twist in the zeitgeist: radical is no longer chic. Last week, multi-millionaire rapper Jay-Z, who cashed in at the height of the Occupations with T-shirts reading "Occupy All Streets," told the New York Times that he never really knew what the whole thing was about anyway.

Across the world, the question being asked in time for the anniversary is: "What happened to Occupy?" The question implies that the occupations simply drifted, that the activists involved lost interest and lacked direction. But none of the major camps disbanded of their own accord: all of them, from New York to London and beyond, were evicted by force, with batons and tear gas and hundreds of arrests, by police forces bent on ensuring that sustained dissent against big banks and government-imposed austerity would not be allowed to continue.

Without police intervention against peaceful protests would many of the occupations – some of which withstood blizzards – still be there?

"Support from the mainstream has slowly dwindled, and it's dwindled for the wrong reasons," says Logan Price, a long-standing organiser with Occupy and other groups in America. "The police had a carte blanche to do whatever they wanted to, and acted within the interests of the mayors and Homeland Security, to go and break up the occupations and never let them come back. Here in New York, it's become normal that every time anybody tries to protest, the police will react heavy handedly. In effect, the right to civil assembly has been suspended in New York."

Back outside Wall Street, another young man is arrested. His crime was knocking on the window of the police car to wake up an officer who had fallen asleep on the job, at which point five more officers swooped to cuff him and take him away. The noise wakes most of the sleepers: those on their feet yell: "We love you, Will!"

Will was one of around 25 protesters to be arrested during one of the first days of action planned for the anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. These include plans to surround the New York Stock Exchange this morning. Hundreds are flocking to New York to take part, and the officers of the NYPD are waiting for them.

In the past year, more than 7,500 activists have been arrested for being involved in peaceful Occupy actions in America alone, drawing criticism across the world, including from the UN's "special rapporteur" for the protection of free expression, Frank La Rue, who said crackdowns appeared to be violating the demonstrators' human and constitutional rights.

The impact on the "Obama generation", who elected a government on their campaign promises of hope and change, do not remain unaffected by the treatment of the protesters.”

"I wouldn't vote in this election even if I could," says one protester, who'd just turned 17 and gives his name as "Envy". "This election is kind of funny. It seems like we can either choose between going downhill gradually, or going downhill fast."

Envy sits swinging his feet off the scaffolding, a young black man watching police officers drag away another young black man involved in the protests. It would not be an unusual sight in the deprived boroughs on the outer edge of Brooklyn. This, however, is the financial district.

"In the beginning, Occupy was a sanctuary, a safe haven for me," he says, his multiple piercings sparkling as his face moves. He says he dropped out of school because there didn't seem to be any point in attending, but has gone back because he has experienced a loving community and something to fight for.

"I will never forget my 16th year, ever," he says.

In years to come, when people tell the story of Occupy Wall Street, it will not be a great, big tale but a constellation of small stories, such as Envy's.

One of the police officers who arrested Will comes back to remonstrate with the sleepers camped on the sidewalk. "People are trying to sleep around here," he says.

The occupiers tell him that they are being robbed by the people across the street at the stock exchange and could he possibly deal with it?

The officer tells them all to keep it down. "It's been a year," he says. "The police have been more than patient with you people," he adds. "Please, just be quiet now."

The camps, 12 months on

Hong Kong: One of the longest-running Occupy encampments came to an end earlier this month after a court order allowed bailiffs to forcibly remove groups of activists from outside HSBC's Asian headquarters.

London: The Occupy protests reached London almost a month after the first tents began appearing in New York. Activists were evicted from their encampment outside St Paul's in January, but some say their efforts have made the public more likely to react to financial scandals.

Toronto: Supporters of Occupy Toronto plan to march to Parliament Hill today to "Stop [Prime Minister] Harper and demand real democracy". The group says it plans to hold a rally with speakers, followed by a "peoples' parliament" gathering.

News
Brand said he
people
Sport
Adam Lallana, Juan Cala, Andy Carroll and Cameron Jerome
sportThe latest news and scores
Voices
Actor Zac Efron
voicesTopless men? It's as bad as Page 3, says Howard Jacobson
Life & Style
Sampling wine in Turin
food + drink...and abstaining may be worse than drinking too much, says scientist
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
tvGrace Dent on TV
Arts & Entertainment
The monster rears its head as it roars into the sky
film
Voices
For the Love of God (2007) The diamond-encrusted skull that divided the art world failed to sell for
its $100m asking price. It was eventually bought by a consortium
which included the artist himself.
voicesYou can shove it, Mr Webb – I'll be having fun until the day I die, says Janet Street-Porter
Sport
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain drives in the rain during the qualifying session of the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix in Shanghai
sport
Extras
indybestFake it with 10 best self-tanners
Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sportThe city’s fight for justice after Hillsborough is embodied in Steven Gerrard, who's poised to lead his club to a remarkable triumph
News
peopleOrlando Bloom the pin-up hero is making a fresh start
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Life & Style
The North Korean TV advert for Taedonggang beer, that became a YouTube hit
food + drinkAnd what did it take to set up a taste test back in Wiltshire?
Arts & Entertainment
filmLife for Leslie Mann's can be challenging sometimes
Voices
For music lovers: John Cusack with his vinyl collection in 'High Fidelity'
voices...but don't forget rest of the year
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit