The Occupy Wall Street movement began two years ago today with protests in lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park.
One year on, the movement was was widely deemed a failure. Two years on, we may be seeing delayed success.
On the first anniversary of the protests, The New York Times’ Joe Nocera declared the movement all but dead. The protest sought to draw attention to rising economic inequality in America and the role its supporters say Wall Street banks played in perpetuating the problem.
Echoing a popular critique of the movement, Nocera said the protestors failed to create political change, or even to state the political remedies they sought, before police removed them from the park two months after they had arrived.
“…Raising the issue is the easy part,” Nocera wrote. “The hard part is doing something about it. Without political engagement by those who want to reverse income inequality, it will continue to widen.”
But today is time to reconsider this assessment. While it’s true that the loose collection of left-wing protestors has not coalesced behind individual candidates in the manner of OWS’ right-wing counterpart, the Tea Party, the movement’s success in creating heightened awareness of income inequality and stoking populist anger toward Wall Street is beginning to pay dividends.
In no place has this success been more apparent than the race to succeed Wall Street champion Mike Bloomberg as mayor of New York City. After a Democratic primary campaign that served in large part as a referendum on Bloomberg’s three terms as the city’s chief executive, the nomination ultimately went to NYC public advocate Bill de Blasio, whose “Tale of Two Cities” campaign focused extensively on New York’s widening gap between the rich and poor.
In banging the drum for higher taxes on the wealthy, de Blasio latched on to an anger that may have been simmering, but had yet to catch fire before Occupy Wall Street launched its attacks on the so-called “one per cent” two years ago and brought income inequality to the forefront of the national debate.
At a rally leading up to last week’s Democratic primary elections, de Blasio supporters chanted “we are the 99 per cent!” in a declaration of class solidarity that had not yet expressed itself until OWS gave people a vernacular with which to describe their frustrations and a target at which to direct them.
It remains to be seen whether de Blasio can deflect claims of “class warfare” and triumph over Republican nominee Joe Lhota in the general election, but his primary victory alone is music to the ears of a liberal base starving for a progressive mayor.
On a national level, Occupy Wall Street’s patron saint, Senator Elizabeth Warren, played a small but tangible role in Goldman Sachs alumnus Larry Summers’ decision to rescind his name from consideration for Federal Reserve chair. Warren was one of four Democrats on the Senate Banking Committee whose expected opposition to Summers’ confirmation made the process unpalatable to President Barack Obama, a fan of Summers and his crisis-management skills.
Summers’ withdrawal is seen as a victory for economic progressives, many of whom feared his ties to Wall Street and focus on the inflation rate would make him an inadequate leader to address the nation’s unemployment problems.
Summers had many detractors, both on the Senate Banking Committee and beyond, and it would be inaccurate to say he’d have been named Federal Reserve chairman were it not for Warren’s intervention. But Warren’s place on the committee allowed her to bring the concerns of the voters who supported her anti-Wall Street campaign to a major economic policy discussion.
It’s true Occupy Wall Street hasn’t achieved the tidal wave of legislative change the Tea Party was able to create, but a seat at the table is certainly a start. Maybe it’s time we stop calling it a failure.
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