Insider spoke with protesters, Wall Street veterans, and city officials to find out whether Occupy Wall Street made a difference

A man wearing a Guy Fawkes mask stands outside of a Chase Bank in Manhattan during the Occupy Wall Street protest.
The Occupy Wall Street protest kicked off on September 17, 2011, in Lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park. Reuters

Just a few short years after the global financial crisis, a group of protesters took to the streets of Lower Manhattan, marched to Zuccotti Park – and stayed for two months.

Coining the slogan, “We are the 99%,” that movement, Occupy Wall Street, decried income inequality, saying that the wealthiest 1% of Americans controlled far too much of the nation’s wealth and that corporations wielded too much influence over American democracy.

On the 10th anniversary of the occupation, Insider spoke with participants and observers of the movement, including the original organizers, city officials, historians, Wall Street traders, and lawyers on both sides of the battle. We wanted to understand how Occupy started, what it meant to those involved, and what legacy it could claim.

By some measures, the movement was a failure. Income inequality is as acute as ever, Wall Street still holds sway in Washington, banks are minting record profits, and corporations pay starkly lower taxes than they did then. If Occupy Wall Street had any impact on the yawning gap between the 1% and the 99%, it isn’t easy to discern.

On the other hand, organizers and some observeres say Occupy sparked a global conversation about wealth inequality that continues to this day and helped fuel the political rise of democratic socialists like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

“The legacy of the Occupy movement is very simply that Americans are now far more aware of rampant inequality of income, wealth, and power in this country than they were before. I think it moved the needle a little bit in terms of Americans being able and willing to face all of these,” said Robert Reich, former secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. “But in terms of actually reversing it, no. We are seeing even more inequality of income, wealth, and power than we saw 10 years ago.”

Kalle Lasn, one of the original organizers of Occupy Wall Street, said the movement was “an incredible success” by many metrics. “Above all, it politicized millions of young people around the world,” he said.

But he said that the political and economic crisis has gotten starkly worse since then.

“Back during Occupy Wall Street, things were bad. But they weren’t as bad as they are now,” he said. “Now it feels like the world is fragmenting into some sort of dark age.”

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