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 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT