The first anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement setting up camp in New York Citys Zuccotti Park briefly renewed attention on the national protest movement that began when a few hundred protesters set up tents near the New York Stock Exchange to protest Wall Street greed. It sparked hundreds of similar encampments across the country, but a year later the movement has faded amid questions about what it accomplished, if anything.
The movement was a spontaneous, populist outburst of popular discontent and disillusionment. It zeroed in on the economic inequality in America, rallying around the slogan We are the 99 percent, a reference to the disproportionate concentration of wealth among the top 1 percent of households. The movement caught on as it spread across the country, occupying parks, buildings and vacant homes to get its message out.
But the movement became a victim of its own disorganization. It had no defined leadership. It was rudderless with no clear set of goals or objectives. Occupy Wall Street never presented a vision around which to organize. The growing numbers of protesters drawn to encampments posed logistical problems for housing and feeding participants. As authorities moved in to dismantle the encampments and disperse protesters with no place to go, the movement lost momentum and visibility.
There have been few tangible results. As Andrew Ross Sorkin notes in the New York Times: Has the debate over breaking up the banks that were too big to fail ... really changed or picked up steam as a result of Occupy Wall Street? No. Have any new regulations for banks or business been enacted as a result of Occupy Wall Street? No. Has there been any new meaningful push to put Wall Street executives behind bars as a result of Occupy Wall Street? No.
Occupy activists say they have succeeded in smaller, less visible ways without intense media attention such as helping homeowners avoid foreclosure or eviction. In what may be its most significant, lasting accomplishment Occupy raised the issue of income inequality to a national conversation, echoing even now in the presidential campaign.
But it will take a lot more than that for Occupy Wall Street to be a force in American life.