Note—Ten years ago yesterday, September 17, 2021 the most significant social movement of the early 21st Century got underway with the occupation of Zuccotti Park, located in New York City’s Wall Street financial district. They intended to stay—and they did. Occupy Wall Street began with a call in the counter-cultural magazine Adbusters drafted by ideological but undogmatic ancho-pacifists. They got the ball rolling but stepped aside and never tried to exert leadership or control the movement that ballooned from their suggestion.
Adbuster's iconic Occupy Wall street poster attracted many to encamp in the Financial District.
It came as America was still in the grips of a depression caused by the collapse of the corrupt mortgage banking industry that had caused untold numbers to lose their homes, plunged many into unemployment, and robbed an emerging generation of hope. Income inequality was growing and the movement adopted a slogan “We are the 99%” in opposition to the tiny mega rich elite which repressed them.
Zuccotti Park was renamed Liberty Square and growing daily marches was launched from the encampment there. Soon similar encampments and marches sprang up in central cities across the country. A movement grew that gripped the country for months and gained wide-spread public sympathy. It was a movement that remained firmly rooted in non-violence despite occasional attempts by Black Block activists to steer it in a more violent direction and the increasing police violence that was being used to attempt to destroy encampments and quash street protest. Eventually the Obama administration’s Justice Department encouraged and supported local authorities in aggressive police attacks. One by one the encampments flickered out, but the spirit in which they grew remained and a generation of activists turned to other causes.A succinct identification drew clear lines.
The Occupy Movement greatly influenced subsequent popular movements built from the ground up including student protests against gun violence, the Women’s March movement, Greta Thunberg’s climate change protests, Black Lives Matter, and immigration justice movements.
It is instructive to compare this truly organic movement to the carefully orchestrated insurrectionist mob that laid siege to the Capitol on January 6 backed by oligarchs, clear fascists, and White supremacists. Both movements claimed to be revolutionary.
I wrote extensively about the Occupy Movement over the next few years. He is a blog post from October 3, 2011 that caught the spirit of the early movement in New York.
On Friday, the day before New York City Police busted more than 700 marchers on the Brooklyn Bridge apparently just to show that they remembered how, the General Assembly of the Occupy Wall Street protesters issued their Declaration of the Occupation of New York City to explain themselves.
New York City kettled and arrested over 700 Occupy Wall Street demonstrators on the Brooklyn Bridge. It did not end the protests. Charges were eventually dismissed against almost all who were arrested that day.
For three weeks the media, when it was not totally ignoring a growing social revolution under their noses, mocked those twice a day Assemblies where the rag tag protestors without visible leaders, command structure, or ideology gathered to hash out plans for immediate action, logistic concerns, police relations, and, oh yeah, the purpose of the whole damn thing.
High profile members of the professional left, accustomed to demonstrations of vast coalitions, huge steering committees, leaders certified by the press as being important, bullet point demands, and pre-printed signage tut-tutted and wrung their hands.The encampment at Liberty Square.
Admittedly, the process as observed through shaky hand-held video cam clips posted on YouTube and protest sites, made them look a tad ridiculous. Denied the use of a public address system or even bull horns by police the participants quickly improvised a system whereby comments of speakers were relayed to the whole crowd by repeating short phrases in chorus. At first it looks like a crowd of zombies blindly parroting anything said to them.
And because the discussions were open to participation by everyone, not every speaker was succinct or even rational. Wackos and old lefties with ideological axes to grind got their say. But so did hundreds, in the end maybe thousands, of ordinary and here-to-fore voiceless citizens.
The media could not grasp an apparently leaderless, democratic movement.
Formal motions and votes were noticeable by their absence. As the conversations continued the crowds drifted toward consensus. It was clear to participants when that consensus was achieved.
Yet despite everything the Assemblies and their odd processes worked. Day by day, week by week the protests in New York grew until they could no longer be ignored. The young people, tech savvy and knowledgeable in the new ways of social media, found ways to spread the word and build support. The protest spread to dozens of cities around the country and even attracted international support.
Still, they kept being asked—Where are your demands? What are you doing here? Show us your manifesto so we can shove you into a box and pin a label on you. So the Assembly went at the work of explaining themselves.
Anyone who has ever tried to draft a document in a committee knows what an irksome, almost impossible task it is. People argue endlessly not just about the Big Picture but about wording nuance and the placement of semi-colons. The results usually come out looking like they were constructed by a committee—filled with a mix of buzz words, in-group jargon, whereases and wherefores and stilted legalese. The alternative is to swallow some ringing manifesto composed by a charismatic leader, an act which instantly converts a popular movement to a quickly ossifying ism.
The folks at the Occupy Wall Street Assemblies worked some magic. I’m not sure just how they did it. I would have liked to watch the presses in action. In the end they came out with a clear and concise document that would not paint them into an expected corner. And they did so with rhetorical grace.
This is what they want to say to the world right now. Pass it on.
Artist Rachel Schrgais charted the interconnectedness of the Declaration of the Occupation of New York City.
Declaration of the Occupation of New York City
As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies.
As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.
They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage.
They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses.
They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.
They have poisoned the food supply through negligence and undermined the farming system through monopolization.
They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless animals, and actively hide these practices.
They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions.
They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right.
They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers’ healthcare and pay.
They have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people, with none of the culpability or responsibility.
They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams that look for ways to get them out of contracts in regards to health insurance.
They have sold our privacy as a commodity.
They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press. They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products endangering lives in pursuit of profit.
They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.
They have donated large sums of money to politicians, who are responsible for regulating them.
They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil.
They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people’s lives or provide relief in order to protect investments that have already turned a substantial profit.
They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit.
They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.
They have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners even when presented with serious doubts about their guilt.
They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad. They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.
They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts. *
To the people of the world,
We, the New York City General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert your power.
Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone.
To all communities that take action and form groups in the spirit of direct democracy, we offer support, documentation, and all of the resources at our disposal.
Join us and make your voices heard!
*These grievances are not all-inclusive.