Skip to main content

Occupy fizzled, but made 99% a force

By Stephen Zunes, Special to CNN
updated 11:48 AM EDT, Mon September 17, 2012
A participant in the Occupy Wall Street protest is arrested during a rally to mark the one-year anniversary of the movement in New York on Monday, September 17, 2012. A participant in the Occupy Wall Street protest is arrested during a rally to mark the one-year anniversary of the movement in New York on Monday, September 17, 2012.
HIDE CAPTION
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • It's been a year since the Occupy Wall Street movement sprang up
  • Stephen Zunes: The movement has fizzled, but it affected our political narrative
  • He says Obama has taken on populist issues such as income inequality, unfair tax policies
  • Zunes: If concerns of the 99% are not addressed, new versions of Occupy will emerge

Editor's note: Stephen Zunes, a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco, is an editor of "Nonviolent Social Movements: A Geographical Perspective."

(CNN) -- It's been a year since the Occupy Wall Street movement sprang up. Since then, it has fizzled, but this does not mean that the underlying issues that gave rise to the protests have gone away.

Until last year, mainstream political discourse did not include nearly as much emphasis on such populist concerns as rising income inequality, tax policies that favor the rich, growing influence by large corporate interests in elections and the reckless deregulation of financial institutions that resulted in the 2008 crisis. It is hard to miss them now.

These concerns still impact 99% of Americans. Even if Occupy protests have petered out, the movement has affected the political narrative in our country.

Meet the original 'Occupiers'

Stephen Zunes
Stephen Zunes

We can see Occupy's impact in the current presidential campaign. Whereas Bill Clinton's 1996 re-election strategy focused on the idea of "triangulation" -- taking centrist positions on key economic issues to isolate his Republican opponent on the right -- President Barack Obama has taken on much more of a populist stance, mobilizing his Democratic base and economically stressed independents against an opponent whom his campaign is depicting as the quintessential representative of the 1%.

Occupy activists justifiably express skepticism over how much to trust the president's left-leaning rhetoric when his actual economic policies have been decidedly centrist. Still, the fact that Obama's re-election campaign recognizes the advantage of decrying unfair tax laws and similar policies that affect middle class Americans is indicative of how the tone has shifted.

Unfortunately, much of the decline of the Occupy movement can also be attributed to the distraction from this year's election campaigns. Despite the Democrats' mixed record, the unions and many other potential allies necessary in building a real movement have felt obliged to focus their energy on re-electing Obama and helping other Democratic candidates.

Some police repression and serious violations of civil liberties by city authorities certainly crippled the Occupy protests as well, as did the media's tendency to focus too much on its more violent or flaky elements.

But, this does not mean that all is lost.

What was the point of the Occupy movement? Share your view with CNN iReport

The Egyptian Revolution and other unarmed civil insurrections that have swept the world recently did not start and end during a few dramatic weeks or months when millions of people were on the streets. They were the culmination of many years of struggle, often initiated by young radicals engaging in small but creative demonstrations.

The Occupy protesters, even at their greatest numbers, were never able to do what successful movements must do in terms of developing a well-thought-out strategy, clearly articulated political demands, a logical sequencing of tactics and well-trained and disciplined activists who don't vandalize property or fight cops. Indeed, the Occupy protesters never developed enough of the structural elements necessary to truly be considered a "movement."

Most importantly, those involved never recognized that colorful protests are no substitute for door-to-door organizing among real people.

A look back: Meet the 99%

The United States has a long history of popular social and economic struggles, from the abolitionists to the Populists to the suffragists to the civil rights movement and, throughout much of that history, the trade unions. As Thomas Jefferson once beckoned his fellow Americans: "crush... the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations which dare already to challenge our government to trial and bid defiance to the laws of our country."

If the pressing concerns of the 99% are not addressed, don't be surprised if new incarnations of the Occupy movement emerge in the near future.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Zunes.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
updated 10:19 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
updated 2:59 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
updated 9:32 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
updated 8:33 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
updated 5:37 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
updated 12:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
updated 5:10 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
updated 3:00 PM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
John Sutter says the right is often stereotyped on climate change. But with 97% of climate scientists say humans are causing global warming, we all have to get together on this.
updated 8:57 AM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
Andrew Liepman and Philip Mudd: When we declare that we will defeat ISIS, what do we exactly mean?
updated 4:40 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Thailand sex trafficking
Human trafficking is a multibillion dollar global industry. To beat it, we need to change mindsets, Cindy McCain says.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
The leaders of the GOP conferences say a Republican-led Senate could help solve America's problems.
updated 10:01 AM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
Nicholas Syrett says Wesleyan University's decision to make fraternities admit women will help curb rape culture.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
Mike Downey says New Yorkers may be overdoing it, but baseball will really miss Derek Jeter
updated 8:32 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Quick: Which U.S. president has authorized wars of various kinds in seven Muslim countries?
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Women's issues should be considered front and center when assessing a society's path, says Zainab Salbi
updated 2:05 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
A catastrophe not making headlines like Ebola and ISIS: the astounding rate of child poverty in the world's richest country.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT