Occupy Wall Street protesters gathered in New York's financial district to mark the first anniversary of the movement, their presence contained by metal barriers and riot-clad police forming human walls. The current activities, dubbed a “roving carnival of resistance” include “nonviolent civil disobedience” as well as events planned in at least 15 other cities including Asheville, North Carolina, San Francisco and Hilo, Hawaii.
Chants of "All day, all week, Occupy Wall Street" and "We got sold out, banks got bailed out," greeted Wall Street workers arriving at their offices, echoes of the original goal of the protest to generate "a swirl of mobile occupations of corporate lobbies and intersections," as stated on the Occupy website for the Sept. 15-17 anniversary events, promoted on Twitter with the hashtags #S15, #S16 and #S17.
"We're going to hold acts of non-violent civil disobedience on intersections around Wall Street to basically shut down the morning commute of these Wall Street bankers; we're in a crisis situation, enough's enough," organizer Mark Bray told ABC News affiliate WABC-TV.
One year ago, Zuccotti Park became the heartbeat of the 99% protesting the one percent and gave birth to the Occupy Wall Street movement as thousands set up camps across the U.S. and around the world, briefly reigniting the social activism of the 1960’s and 70’s, drawing attention to economic injustice and ethics as their predecessors did for anti-war protestors and civil rights before that.
Occupy “struck a resonant chord with middle-class Americans who might never join a protest themselves but who are still angry that their homes are underwater, that their neighbors are jobless and that the economy is in disarray,” says Ed Mierzwinski, consumer advocate at U.S. PIRG, to TIME.
The media did its part in garnering attention, both pro and con, but as physical real estate available to gather evaporated, and rules prohibiting sleeping bags or tents in parks impacted groups from New York to Palm Beach to the European Central Bank in Frankfurt, the movement faltered.
It grew too large too quickly, without a clear, actionable agenda and no leaders emerged. “In other words, they became a combustible microcosm of the society that Occupiers had decided to abandon — a new, equally flawed society with its own set of miniature hierarchies and toxic relationships,” as AP put it.
The anniversary marks a crucial test of a brand built mid-way between physical and social corridors of protest, without a clear campaign plan — or budget, in a world where online presence and management is as important, if not more important than human occupation. (Witness the trademark spats over the past year.)
“The trouble with Occupy Wall Street, a year after it bloomed in a granite park in lower Manhattan and spread across the globe, is that nobody really knows what it is anymore. To say whether Occupy was a success or a failure depends on how you define it. Occupy is a network. Occupy is a metaphor. Occupy is still alive. Occupy is dead. Occupy is the spirit of revolution, a lost cause, a dream deferred,” AP added.
While banks remain big and powerful, unemployment remains high and students loans top one trillion dollars, the post-Occupy Wall Street financial landscape does show some trickle-down effect including, Bank of America, Chase, Wells Fargo and SunTrust backing off plans to charge customers a monthly fee to use their debit cards, spurred on by a Facebook-led protest, Bank Transfer Day, calling for customers to close big bank accounts and change to credit unions or community banks.
Students and academics called for broad student loan forgiveness which did not materialize, but did get White House attention to let former students consolidate debt at a lower interest rate and accelerated a plan where “eligible borrowers will have to pay a maximum of 10 percent of their income toward their student loans, down from the current maximum of 15 percent, and will have their remaining loans forgiven after 20 years of payments, down from the current 25,” according to the International Business Times.
"We changed the conversation," said Aaron Black, an Occupy organizer, to New York magazine. "Are we happy with that and do we leave it at that? Or do we push for more? I think we push for more.”
In addition to shedding light on widespread economic failings and ethical interstices, Occupy Wall Street is a playbook for social activism in today’s world where physical presence must be accompanied by digital strokes and brands require a carefully orchestrated campaign to succeed. Perhaps ‘Occupy Wall Street’ needs to look to the experts and ‘Engage Madison Avenue.’