Browse By

The Occupy Movement: A Protest with Legacy

In global cities such as New York, London and Mumbai, where some of the highest-earning people in the world are quite literally neighbours with some of the poorest, the economic divide between those at the top and those at the bottom has never been so pronounced.

New York City financial district - arguable the most financially influential city in the world.
The financial district of New York City – arguably the most financially influential city in the world.

In response to the financial crash of 2008 and the ever-widening gap between the rich and poor, Occupy Wall Street was instigated on 14 July 2011 by a blog post from the Canadian anti-consumerist magazine Adbusters. Little did Micah White, the magazine’s senior editor, know that this would be the start of a worldwide series of protests. The post quickly gained traction, picking up daily media coverage and casusing thousands of members of the public to pledge their allegiance to the values of the protest.

The article called upon “redeemers, rebels and radicals” to appear in their thousands in Lower Manhattan on 17 September 2011. The phrase “Occupy Wall Street” was picked up on by protestors. Clearly, “occupying” public space is a global phenomenon that has taken place for most of documented history. Protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Tiananmen Square and the worldwide Reclaim the Streets collective have all helped to give the people a voice or rid them of oppressive leaders.

Ironically, the iconic 'Charging Bull' representing the energy, strength, and unpredictability of the stock market.
Ironically, the iconic Charging Bull that represents the energy, strength, and unpredictability of the stock market was trapped within police barricades during all 60 days of protest.

The protest lasted 60 days and “occupied” Zuccotti Park continuously throughout this period. During the protest, small “sub-protests” occurred and the event was used as a springboard to highlight other problems affecting New York and the world. The protest even coined its own powerful phrase, “we are the 99%”, suggesting that 1% of the world’s population held a similar amount of wealth as the remaining 99% – a idea that stunned the world.

“We are the 99%”

However, the two-month protest was not all peaceful and some would argue it left a bitter taste in the mouthes of all those involved. A leaked statement from the Department of Homeland Security demonstrates the unease amongst local politicians and government figures:

“Mass gatherings associated with public protest movements can have disruptive effects on transportation, commercial, and government services, especially when staged in major metropolitan areas”.

This highlights the distrust between the American government and its citizens. In today’s society “peaceful protests” seem to be a thing of the past and police have to protect not only the passing public, but also those involved in protests themselves. Eventually, on 15 November 2011, the NYPD forced protestors out of Zuccotti Park due to “an increasing health and fire safety hazard to those camped in the park… and to the surrounding community”. This may have been the end of the Occupy event for other New Yorkers and the police, but it certainly wasn’t for those involved in the protest. Zuccotti Park was just the beginning.

Thousands of protesters march down Wall Street, NY.
Thousands of protesters march down Wall Street.

Occupy Wall Street shone the spotlight on the financial sector in America and made the world ask the question: what really happened after the 2008 market crash? Soon after the Occupy movement along came 2012 and the start of Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. The main talking point between Obama and his rival was the market crash and the multi-trillion-dollar deficit highlighted by the Occupy campaign in New York. The Wall Street protests had clearly brought the financial markets to the forefront of American politics. In addition to this incredible feat, Occupy Wall Street sparked a series of similar Occupy protests in cities across America and around the world, helping people to stand up for not just the values presented in the first protest but for the values and ideals of their own countries.

In Zuccotti Park on 17 September 2016 only 100 people commemorated what had happened five years earlier. Whilst the legacy of protest may not have lived on, there is no doubt that the events that took place in Zuccotti Park left an imprint on the democratic world. The protest has provoked people to question social and economical divisions right across the world and the debate is still ongoing today. If that’s not a worthwhile legacy then I don’t know what is.