What's happened to the Occupiers?
The Occupy Wall Street movement sprang up in New York a year ago. As members gather to mark its first anniversary those involved reflect on its impact and internal strife
ZUCCOTTI PARK in September is breezy and sun-dappled, and on Wednesday this week it was filled with office workers and men from the nearby World Trade Center construction site taking their lunch breaks. In one corner of the park, activists gathered following a meeting, and drum beats could be heard from a group of Occupiers camped outside Trinity Church, opposite Wall Street. The area is relatively quiet – thronged with pedestrians, sure, but mostly free of the protesters who made their homes in the park during September 2011.
The park, in the heart of New York’s financial district, was the birthplace of Occupy Wall Street, a movement that took many by surprise when it sprang up last autumn. It swiftly garnered attention and gained significant public support. Many of those involved at the start were anarchists, theorists and feminists, and, drawing on these philosophies, they established an unconventional campaign for change.
On Monday, and this weekend, in the run-up, a range of concerts, lectures, film screenings and parties are planned across New York to mark the movement’s anniversary.
A press release gleefully states: “99% to Wall St. We’re coming for you! Year two begins.” But the reality is less certain. Ever since the NYPD threw activists out of the park in the early hours of November 15th 2011, Occupy has been without a home. Supporters congregate uptown in Union Square Park (though not overnight) and hold meetings in rooms in universities and friendly venues across the city. A small group sleeps on the footpath outside Trinity Church, but, one year on, the movement has lost visibility. Police brutality, internal disagreements and the strain of long-term “occupations” have taken their toll.
Perched on one of Zuccotti Park’s granite seats, bearing a poster with a statement about bankers and the 99 per cent, is Michael Glazer, a bearded 27-year-old actor from Chicago. He recalls how, a year ago, he sold his guitar to make enough money to pay for the bus, arriving in New York on October 9th. Hundreds of people were sleeping in the park and thousands were visiting in the day.
“Coming up on our one-year anniversary, I think there’s a lot of hope, because we have lasted this long,” he says. “But I think there is a bit of a sense of a missed opportunity because I feel like people understand that we can’t occupy public spaces any more the way we did.”