It has been over two years since Occupy Wall Street began in Zuccotti Park in New York City on September 17, 2011. Inspired by the Arab Spring, protesters descended onto the privately-owned park, protesting the conditions of the country since the Great Recession—banks who were never truly punished for their financial excesses, a sense of stagnancy in society, and a punishing societal inequality in wealth that seems to only grow.
Occupy utilized social media, such as its website, Tumblr, and Facebook, to create a movement that spanned the entire country, with sister movements springing up in other cities. The movement captivated the news media and the country for slightly less than a year—it captivated Americans’ imaginations with its concept of a leaderless movement, who were protesting against an institution that Americans all distrusted.
But the movement that thrived on a concept of a leadership movement seemed to disappear—the police broke down the barriers, with Los Angeles’ Occupy (not far from USC’s University Park campus) being one of the last to be disbanded. Occupy Wall Street has continued to maintain its website and has congregated on September 17 at Zuccotti Park for “anniversary marches”. But the Occupy Wall Street movement has not manifested in actual political change. There has been rhetoric, yes. “We are the 99%” and its variants entered the national conscience. But there has been no “Occupy” party or politicians.
Occupy’s counterpart, in contrast, has established itself as a major part of the Republican Party with its own funding and organization.
Partially why Occupy has faded is because Occupy did not want to center around leaders. Having leaders would lead to the same concentration of power that they saw in the banking industry and Washington DC. But the same lack of leadership led to a lack of cohesion in message.
But more importantly, what Americans saw in Occupy’s tactics was not entirely agreeable. While Americans were in favor of raising taxes on the rich, they questioned the methods of Occupy. Public skepticism led to the movement being characterized as a group of bored, middle-class college students, or alternatively as squatters who now had an “official name” and “official purpose” to justify their occupation of Zuccotti Park and other public areas.
By January 5, 2012, 51% of US voters saw Occupy as a public nuisance. Only 39% saw them as a valid protest movement. Additionally, American voters believed that Occupy hadn’t conveyed its message adequately.
In some ways, perhaps, Americans are still bound by the concept of the “silent majority”—you can protest, but you should do it in the proper ways. If there is a concept more sacred to Americans than the freedom of speech, it is private property, a notion tied up with the notion of respectability. Pay attention to your own business, your own property, and your own family. If you are going to affect change, be respectable—there are institutions in this country that are centuries old.
The Tea Party went through the traditional avenues of power, which are sanctioned by the silent majority. The impact of their methods is clear. While Occupy has changed the rhetoric of the country, the Tea Party has arguably changed the course of the country through its control of Congress.
This is still a country that values respectability and reverses the institutions that it claims to hate—higher education, politicians, and bankers are often derided by Americans, but the education, intelligence, and work involved in all three of these fields are highly respected. So, even when a “ragtag group of college students” are saying what all Americans are thinking, they stand in the shadows of the institutions to which Americans continue to look up.