Weeks before Iowa caucused and New Hampshire voted, hundreds of supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders gathered in New York City’s Union Square. At that point, Sanders had won no actual votes.
At the march for Sanders in late January, people chanted, “We are the 99 percent.” The Sanders supporters were united “against the 1 percent.”
The march ended in Zuccotti Park, birthplace of Occupy Wall Street. In a sense, it started there, long before Sanders announced his candidacy.
Where did Occupy go?
Inspired by the energy of the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street began in the late summer of 2011 to combat the villain of Wall Street. The movement had no clear leaders and focused on bringing attention to various issues, rather than doubling down on a particular demand.
At one time or another, Occupiers called for the repeal of Citizens United, the reinstatement of Glass-Steagall, and new taxes on financial transactions.
When the tents came down, the conventional wisdom concluded that Occupy hadn’t achieved anything because it had been too diffuse, splintering in too many directions.
One of the movement’s early organizers, Micah White, wrote, “Occupy set out to achieve [a] very specific goal: to end the power of money over our democracies. And we failed.”
It’s not surprising that Occupy didn’t result in the total and immediate overthrow of the economic system.
But Occupy’s rhetoric and issue profile percolated through Americans across the political spectrum over time, achieving a slow victory.
We are all Occupy now
Both Sanders and Donald Trump have found success inveighing against fat cats at the top of the economy.
In lecture- or sermon-like campaign speeches, Sanders repeatedly rails against a rigged economy and the culture of greed on Wall Street.
His big-picture solutions — like single-payer health care or free college tuition — are as bold as the proposals that came out of Occupy encampments. They are infused with a sense of possibility, regardless of potential outcomes.
“Together, we are going to create an economy that works for all of us, not just the one percent,” Sanders said in his victory speech on Tuesday night. That speech had one clear message: voters were sending a warning to the political, financial and media establishment.
Sanders uses the influence of money in politics to tie everything together. This is the spirit of Occupy to a T — the sense that everything is connected to and influenced by money.
Finding an alternative is the Occupy goal. Sanders sees issues similarly. Republicans say they don’t believe in climate change because of the Koch brothers. Big pharma is the obstacle standing in the way of better health care. The bailout of the big banks by the little people continues to hold the little people back.
After New Hampshire, Sanders went to New York City, but not to fundraise, as many of his opponents do when venturing to the home of Wall Street. While he was breakfasting uptown with the Rev. Al Sharpton, Zuccotti Park was quiet and empty.
A merchandiser on the edge of the park said the Occupy crew mainly returns on anniversaries, if at all.
The physical movement has disbanded, but in America’s slow incremental fashion, it has found a new standard-bearer after the fact.
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