The Exchange

Occupy Wall Street: One Year Later, Where Does the Movement Stand?

Rebecca Stropoli
The Exchange
Occupy Wall Street protesters hold up placards in Bryant Park in New York
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Reuters

It's been one year since a motley mix of protestors first gathered in New York City's Zuccotti Park to express their outrage against a system they felt catered to the top 1% of folks on the economic ladder. And on this anniversary day for Occupy Wall Street, protests are happening again in cities across the U.S. and beyond, including the movement's birthplace.

At its inception last September, scant attention was paid to the protesting few, a group that was in part dismissed as tie-dye wearing, weed-toking kids embracing a starry-eyed 1960s idealism that the age of cynicism should have wiped out.

But before you could say, "We are the ninety-nine percent," the Occupy Wall Street movement gained enormous traction, attaining a stronger sense of legitimacy when major unions joined the protests in early October.  OWS was already spreading rapidly to other states and countries with a message that encompassed everything from growing income disparity and the evils of corporate greed to the need for campaign finance reform and desire for universal health care. And then some.

It was the broad scope of the OWS message that became a key criticism of the movement, with many asking, "Where is the focus?" A typical day at Zuccotti Park back in the autumn of last year might include people with signs condemning Wall Street bigwigs and demanding higher taxes for the wealthy but also championing pro-choice sentiment and protesting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. At the same time, dreadlocked kids may have been getting tattoos while swaying to throwback tunes from the likes of Neil Young, while folks at "Communist Manifesto" booths attempted to lure the unconverted and others sold OWS-themed T-shirts (capitalism at its best, although the irony may have been lost on the sellers).

A Fractured Message

Yes, in New York City and elsewhere the message was certainly a fractured one, but at least the movement sparked conversation and brought attention to issues that more than deserved it. But for all the understandable outrage, little seemed to emerge on how to solve the problems that OWS participants were railing against. They were mad as hell and they weren't going to take it anymore, but what were they going to do about it? What could be done about it?

Before long, the movement began to collapse in on itself amid the infighting and dirty politics that eventually seem to mark everything that begins and ends with an element that is essentially flawed: human beings. Again we were treated to the irony of a mass protest that became, in some ways, everything it was fighting against.

Monday's Yahoo! Finance poll gives a nod to the anniversary, asking: "Where do you think the movement stands?" And it is not surprising that 81% of respondents so far say the movement "never made a real impact," while 11% say the movement was "significant, but missed its moment" and only 8% believe OWS is "still raising important questions."

But although the camping residents of Zuccotti Park are long gone, there is still a little spirit left in the ol' movement yet. Crowds of protestors -- albeit much smaller ones than last year, numbering in the hundreds in New York City instead of the thousands -- are hitting the streets Monday to remind people they are still here and that the issues they have demonstrated against are still very much alive in yet another rancorous election year. The police presence in New York City has been strong, the arrests have been plentiful and the day is unlikely to end with an OWS message that is any more concise than it was at the very beginning. But on a much smaller scale, the conversation continues.

Click here for a slideshow of images from today's protest in New York.

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