Political movements don’t die; they just fade away.
So the question now is how far Occupy Wall Street has slipped out of sight and what has taken its place.
Clinically speaking, the Occupy movement is far from deceased, with meetings and protests still happening all over the country. But as the widely anticipated May Day demonstrations and NATO protests came and went, general interest in Occupy has remained at a low simmer, and activists are looking beyond the “Occupy” label that some feel has boxed in the movement — if it was ever a “movement.”
In other words, we might be witnessing a little political rebranding.
“Many of the early participants in the large assemblies in New York last summer, which organized to Occupy Wall Street on Sept. 17, never wanted to build a movement per se,” Salon’s Natasha Lennard wrote recently. “’Occupy’ was a tactic, a banner under which to create public spaces and forums and to intervene in the assumption that politics is just about voting or supporting candidates or campaigns.”
She added, “Personally, I’d love to say goodbye to the banner of ‘Occupy.’ ”
Those are noteworthy remarks coming from Lennard, who was hired to be Salon’s Occupy Wall Street correspondent in a nod to the movement’s pervasive influence not only in leftist American politics but also within the political discussion in general.
Over the past year, polls have recorded an increase in public awareness about the growing gap between rich and poor and the popularization of Occupy terms such as “the 1%.”
But the numbers also show a measurable decrease in interest in the Occupy movement since October, when socialists found themselves rubbing up against anarchists on one shoulder and liberals disappointed with President Obama on the other.
In the fall, when the movement was arguably at its height before police shut down the encampment at Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan, Twitter users referenced the movement 20 to 60 times a minute; now, Occupy sees about five references per minute, according to Reuters.
“Lately, many General Assemblies sometimes border on something closely resembling a public support group,” Ben Vitelli wrote on Occupy Baton Rouge’s website. He was ambivalent about continued use of the term “Occupy.” “On the Internet, vaguely self-congratulatory Paul Krugman-y articles, applauding Occupy for ‘at least shifting the public dialogue,’ are posted and reposted to different Occupy-related Facebook groups to remind each other that Occupy at least had a little bit of an effect.”
Occupy Wall Street’s approval among the public has dropped since last fall. The last NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll on the movement in April showed that 25% of Americans had a positive view of Occupy Wall Street, while 37% had a negative view, numbers that put Occupy roughly on par with the tea party (27% positive/38% negative).
Now, “few of the occupations still exist,” Michael Kazin wrote in Dissent Magazine — drawing a zing from blogger Aaron Bady, who added, “looks like Dissent’s copywriters deleted the part where he continued ‘because organized police repression shut them all down.’ ”
Political infighting and sometimes-brutal police crackdowns have become as closely identified with the movement as the controversial, anarchist-inspired organizational style that is embedded deep inside Occupy’s DNA.
The movement’s leaderless, consent-driven decision-making structure seemed to be both a source of both hard-to-explain seductiveness and a wellspring of endless criticism — and not just from conservatives who saw the protesters as self-absorbed chaos muppets looking for handouts (or worse).
“Activism that becomes infatuated with the culture its performance creates is just exhibitionism,” wrote Kelly Roberts in a March blog post called “How Occupy Wall Street Loved Itself to Death.” “It may soothe the frustrations and longings of the performers, but it is not and never will be the solution to a government that no longer stands for the people who do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this country.”
The Occupy movement has shared a few anti-authoritarian sensibilities with the once-similarly-decentralized tea party movement, but there’s been little interest in the tea party’s ensuing involvement in electoral politics.
New York has seen multiple rallies and marches in support of the Montreal student movement, where Quebecois youth have been clashing for months with lawmakers for trying to raise tuition — and for enacting an “emergency law” heavily restricting demonstrations after lawmakers couldn’t stop the protests.
American activists are increasingly donning red squares, the symbol of the Quebecois uprising, on their clothes and social-media avatars. The logo is a play on the French anti-debt pun “carrément dans le rouge” — “squarely in the red” — and its quick spread in the U.S. follows in the long tradition of American leftists borrowing ideas and inspiration from international movements.
“The idea, of course, is not just solidarity, but agitation — the notion that actions in Canada will inspire strikes against debt peonage here,” Lennard wrote in her column.
She added, “Whether these solidarity marches are or not ‘Occupy’ seems the least interesting question of all to ask.”