Our Readers Write: Thoughts on the Anniversary of Occupy

The day many Occupiers in San Diego had been anticipating.  The one-year anniversary. 

I reflected on the past year.  I did not know about OSD when they did their first rally, so I missed it.  But I attended every rally since. Though I did not ever camp overnight, I participated as often as I could.  Donated so many items and food, as many other supporters did, only for them to be confiscated by the police during raids.  Donated some more items and food again and again.  Police raided the camp again and again.   It got to the point I detested checking the online news every morning to watch video after video of the middle-of-the-night attacks in an attempt to catch Occupiers off guard.  Little to no sleep, gradually weakening their spirit. 

I was never able to attend a General Assembly, but spent many hours watching the Livestream of it in the early days.  I indirectly participated.  I became familiar with the issues and the people involved.  Though many of them were unfamiliar with me.  I recognized them at the rallies, but often felt as an outsider because they did not know me.  I spoke at City Council meetings after I witnessed the force used by the police.  Never knowing that would be the first of many trips to City Council.   My voice trembled as I spoke because I was so nervous.  Now I think back on how all my words fell on deaf ears.

I was never an activist or very political.  I never expected to turn 50 and then be reborn.  For the past 10 years, I was troubled by our economy, the real estate bubble, the Wall Street scams of CDOs, CDSs, the stripping of people’s savings, the shipping of jobs overseas and the wars in the Middle East.  Yet everyone around me seemed indifferent.  Why were they not speaking against all this?  Then Occupy surfaced.  I was not alone.  It wasn’t just me.  People were aware.  They were no longer sitting home quietly contemplating the injustices which were occurring.  In that sense, it was an awakening.  People were coming out of the closet, you could say.  It was no longer going to be a dirty secret.  It was okay to discuss everything and tell others, also.  The discourse started. 

Of course, that was not necessarily a welcomed occurrence for everyone.  Some people were not ready for the wake-up call.  Some people were very comfortable in their lulled sleep.  They were troubled by the exposure of all the wrongs.  The very fabric of all their beliefs were being questioned.  That meant the foundation of their security was being shaken.  This caused people to become angry at Occupiers.  They wanted to hold on to the lies.  They rejected the messages of Occupy.  It pained them to think that they could be deceived by our government. 

This was understandable.  I remember when I first watched Money Masters and also Zeitgeist.  It was similar to taking the red pill in the movie The Matrix.  In search of the truth, we become shocked by how ugly it is.  And just as the movie A Few Good Men, I hear that quote, “You can’t handle the truth!”  Many people just can’t.  It is so much easier to deny the existance of it because otherwise it could shatter and fragment their very lives.

I watched as each Occupy city suffered coordinated raids and people were arrested.  Catch and release.  Many charges were in limbo and some dropped.  I watched in shock and disbelief as the First Amendment Constitutional Rights continued to get trampled upon in every Occupy city across the country.  People put on their strong face and stood in solidarity.  They raised money for bail to free the victims of the police abuse and brutality.  Charges were as petty as jay-walking.  Often as an added bonus, charges were resisting arrest. As if one would voluntarily be taken away for no reason.  Completely violating “Congress shall make no law….” protesting and free speech became illegal.  

Occupiers were supportive and attended the court hearings.  People became determined and defiant after each arrest and declared they would not leave.  But each arrest chipped away at the soul of Occupy.   So many people suffered beatings, rubber bullets, pepper spray, psychological trauma.  The message was also very clear to all those who were not arrested.  You could be next.  

But the main purpose was to chill free speech.  It worked.  People were scared.  The Powers That Be wanted people to just go home and shut up.  The police continued to do their part to dismantle the movement.  The intimidation tactics that were used were enough to keep many people away.  Especially the “normal” people.  At the same time, police would transport and or direct homeless to the camps, telling them there was free food.  And Occupy did not turn their backs on them.  It was an opportunity to reach out and educate them. The movement almost became that of a public relations and public assistance. 

Mainstream media participated in the destruction of the credibility of Occupy..  “OWS were just a bunch of dirty hippies.”  Completely overlooking all the middle class people who were unemployed and were at the camps, all the retired people who lost their savings and pension in the Wall Street swindle, the war veterans, the housewives who had some time while kids were in school to visit the camps. Certainly many young people who were unemployed had more time to be there, but we should not negate the vast variety of people who were present.   Yet they did. 

There were no leaders, so one person would not be targeted.  But the media loved that.  Their campaign was to disparage the movement and hence their credibility.   They reported how unorganized the group was.  It was said that the leaderless movement had no direction. Completely ignoring the lateral nature of how everyone was a leader and anyone can organize an event.  Any time something positive was done, it was completely ignored by the media.  Any time there was trouble, the media highlighted and focused their attention on it. 

Occupy was not affiliated with any party.  This was to ensure that it would not be co-opted as the Tea Party was.  As OSD started getting its teeth in, the group became consumed with the thought of co-optation.  While many were protective, and rightly so, it also unwittingly began the alienation of groups of people.   The mistrust became excessive.  Not wanting to associate with people who were Democrats or Ron Paul crowd or the Tea Party.  It was disappointing.  Some of the causes were shared.  People wanted to overturn Citizens United or re-instate Glass-Steagall.  But because of their party affiliation, some people were shunned. 

As all this was happening, the internal struggles continued.  Some people had strong personalities and there were numerous clashes. Some people did not want to be in the spotlight, while others resented people who didn’t mind being in the spotlight.  Still others resented people who would take the ball and run with it, accusing them of trying to be leaders.  Then came the ageism, sexism and racism:  The middle-aged men; the entitled old, white lady (who isn’t, really); the young, inexperienced rebels; those in favor of Black Bloc tactics and those objecting to it.  A group so united was slowly dividing.

Then we had the infiltrators and some of them were good.  Really playing on people’s feelings, using mind games, gaining the trust of numerous people.  Really loved by so many, there would be no way to expose them, for if anyone tried, they themselves would be run out of the group. 

Yet despite all this, in the face of all the external and internal forces against them, people were still active.  Rallies and marches were routine, despite the lack of media coverage.  There was the National Bank Transfer Day in which OSD participated.  The infamous Amarillo 13 on their way to Occupy Congress.  There was the No TPP which OSD combined several groups.  OSD participated with unions against Walmart.   Many united to take on the San Onofre nuclear power plant and are still fighting to keep it closed.  Others are attempting to spread the word about various important propositions, Yes on 37, No on 32, Yes on 35.   People were still devoted, committed.

Sunday, October 7, 2012, I marched with OSD and the Veterans For Peace to Midway.   We had signs.  We had banners.  We had puppets of death.  We had a cardboard coffin.  We arrived to a make-shift cemetary at Midway park.  It was somber. 

It was the one-year anniversary.  The numbers have dwindled greatly.  I was thinking how the media will emphasize how few people are left.  And all I can think of is how this is not a reflection of Occupy’s failure.  It is a reflection on the apathy of our society, the frustration of people when they realize changes would not happen as quickly as they expected, the fear of many people of the police oppression. Yes, the police participated in the destruction of Occupy.  The media participated in the destruction of Occupy.  Occupy did not fail. Society failed Occupy.

Eds. Note: Thank you ‘jp [oa’ for sharing your thoughts.


  1. avatarAnna Daniels says

    Thanks for sharing your perspective on Occupy, one year later. Despite the fact that I was not involved in the inner workings of the movement, it altered how I look at things in a profound way. I don’t believe the movement is dead. It exists in our minds and hearts as well as in specific actions. One year is not enough to guarantee a movement’s success nor to write it off as inconsequential. Too many of us are now aware of the amassing of immense wealth by the very few at the expense of our social contract with the many. We know that college debt threatens the financial security of the young, and that cuts to the social safety net erode the financial security of the old and sick. I remain optimistic. Our political discourse has been changed for the better. It will take time and commitment to back up that discourse with appropriate action.

  2. avatarJo says

    Wow, that is such a moving (and sad) tribute, jp. Oftentimes, I wonder if the lack of a leader or leadership group contributed to the ability of those who were opposed to OWS to dismantle it. While I agreed with the desire to remain a “democratic” group where every voice was equal, there is also no denying that every society/group that has tried this has failed…much like the communes of the 60s. With true egalitarianism, nothing gets done. With a dictatorship, too much (often bad) gets done. A representative government seems best, but it is also the most vulnerable to corruption. What is the best way to govern a large number of people who are trying to get something done? Wish I had the answer to that question.

    The problem with having so many voices is that the message becomes diluted. The OWS movement started out as a means to wrest control of our political/financial system away from the large corporations and financial entities and back into the hands of “We the People” (IMHO, based on my observing it from the earliest stages). The strongest message coming from the OWS movement was the concept of the “99%” and how the balance of power/wealth has so tremendously shifted from the 99% to the 1% over the past ~30 years.

    Then came the “dirty hippies”/homeless, the police with their violence and their video cameras (still convinced they are using facial recognition software), and the anti-war, pro illegal immigration, (sometimes) pro-union, pro “idiot-homedebtors” messages that (IMHO) distracted the movement from what it originally set out to do. These are divisive issues, and even shifting the name from “Occupy Wall Street” to “Occupy ‘Everywhere'” took away from the core message of the movement.

    Again, I’m anti-war, pro-organic foods, VERY pro-union, etc. and agree with most of the things that OWS stood for, but think these issues should have stayed outside the realm of the OWS movement. IMHO, the dilution of the original message made it difficult for many people to be really involved in a group that required a regular physical presence and consumed so much time and energy when that group was marching in favor of things people really didn’t believe in. I’ll put my daily life on hold in an effort to reinstate Glass-Steagall or get ALL money/bribes out of politics, or to bring jobs back to the US (any pro-labor movement), etc.; but I cannot, in good conscience, march in favor of keeping people in homes they had no intention of ever paying for (and what about the renters???), nor can I march in favor of illegal immigration when that is just the other side of the “off-shoring jobs” coin (bringing the cheap labor over here in order to maximize profits for corporations), etc. The list of grievances became too long, and began to include far too many divisive issues, which is bound to turn people off when they were very much in favor of the original movement…just like what happened to the Tea Party. :(

    I wish there was some way for a group like the Tea Party or OWS to never be co-opted or diluted in any way. Many people in the beginning of both of these movements (especially OWS, after witnessing what happened to the TP) tried to keep a laser-like focus on the core issue(s), but they ended up being drowned out by the “egalitarian” voices.

    You have been an incredible force in the movement, and a true inspiration to many, including myself. Is there any chance this movement (or another) can be refocused, or is “The Great Recession” too far behind us now to do any good?

    Thank you for your tireless efforts!

  3. avatarchrystal coleman says

    Maybe broad, not diluted. And broad is true, because there is SO much that is wrong, where do we begin? I know that for myself, Occupy changed everything for me. I may not go to meetings or protests every week, but my soul is different now. I am empowered. It changed my life, and continues to every day. It gave me a sense of connectedness, a sense of hope, of strength. We are each a stone cast into still water, ripples of beautiful change spreading quietly throughout our communities and into the world around us. We ARE going to change things, because we already have.