Five years after becoming the spiritual home of 'Occupy', Zuccotti Park in New York fills with protestors again

The Occupy faithful believe Bernie Sanders was born of their campaign. And Donald Trump too?

David Usborne
New York
Saturday 17 September 2016 20:17 BST
A movement that spread to cities around the world
A movement that spread to cities around the world (Reuters)

Five years after the Occupy Wall Street movement sprung up inside the perimeter of a pocket handkerchief-sized public park in lower Manhattan, a small band of protestors gathered at the same spot on Saturday to remind the world of what has - and has not - been achieved.

The small knot of about two dozen erstwhile Occupy supporters were a pale shadow of what the movement once was when it helped shine a spotlight on income inequality and highlight what it said was the extraordinary concentration of wealth in the ‘one per cent’ and the struggles faced by the remaining ninety nine per cent in an unfairly skewed society.

With tourists gazing on curiously from the fringes of Zuccotti Park, the group waved banners, blew whistles and brandished cardboard cut-out figures of political figures that were once targets of the movement’s ire including the former US Attorney General Eric Holder.

Many spent the afternoon reminiscing about the brief period in late 2011 when Zuccotti Park was transformed into a makeshift village of protestors with scattered tents and cooking areas and even a medical station to help with any health emergencies.

The effort spawned similar Occupy protests around the world, including in London where its followers established two encampments, one near St Paul’s and another in Finsbury Park. Like their New York counterparts, the London protestors saw themselves fighting for social justice and the return of real democracy where all the power would no longer reside with the one per cent and inside corporate boardrooms.

By early 2012 police had evicted protestors from most of the parks, including in Zuccotti, with those in London and Washington DC the last to survive. Thereafter the fervour and impact of the movement quickly dwindled.

But some of those in lower Manhattan on Saturday contended that the movement had had its successes which are still visible today.

“Everyone knows we were right,” said Caleb Maupin, who was working in the insurance industry when he first joined the movement, told the Associated Press. “We had a major campaign for president with Bernie Sanders. The campaign was like a giant Occupy Wall Street rally, talking about the 99 percent and the one percent because millions of people know we were right.”

And while the campaign of Mr Sanders most obviously carried echoes of the rallying cries of Occupy, it is arguable that it even helped lay a path for Donald Trump, whose special brand of economic populism took him all the way to the Republican nomination and may yet float him to the White House.

And by the same token if Hillary Clinton, as a Democrat, is somehow failing to tap into still lingering disgust with the economic divide in America it is partly because she is identified by many voters as precisely belonging to the financial establishment. Her record of giving speeches to Goldman Sachs for six-figure sums being precisely the kind of behaviour Occupy disdains.

“We had sort of a deep-down effect on activists all around the world,“ said Kalle Lasn of the Vancouver, British Columbia-based ”Adbusters“ magazine, which helped with push for protests against Wall Street in 2011. ”We politicized a whole generation of young people who didn't quite know what to do with their activism and their feelings of anger."

Yet the landscape of Wall Street, just blocks from the park, and the financial sector generally has still not been forced to accept the radical changes that the protestors sought. Earlier this month Wells Fargo revealed it was firing more than 5,000 employees for creating false accounts without the knowledge of its customers while on Friday Deutsche Bank vowed to fight demands made last week by the US Department of Justice that it pay a fine of $14 billion for its part in triggering the mortgage-lending crisis and the 2008 global recession.

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