Rebecca Solnit wrote an inspiring op-ed in today's L.A. Times, one I've been waiting for someone to write. If you need a morale boost, please read it in full. Solnit is an author who spent time at Occupy San Francisco, Occupy Oakland and Occupy Wall Street in 2011. A longer version of the op-ed can be found at tomdispatch.com.
In her piece, she traces movements, activist groups, a unique person here and there, and identifies their transformative moments. She identifies milestones and special people who have made a meaningful difference and changed the world because they galvanized others with their mission.
Real change may at first be incremental, halting, and sometimes frustratingly imperceptible to those who aren't really paying attention, but eventually, it takes hold in ways unimagined.
In other words, the efforts can result in achievements that have lasting impact. And that impact can be on the whole wide world, a country, a legislative body, or on the very participants of a movement. And then those participants pay it forward.
[T]he moment that counts is the one where civil society is its own rule, improvising the terms of an ideal society for a day, a month, a season [...]
Almost as soon as Occupy Wall Street appeared in the fall of 2011, the national conversation changed and the brutality and obscenity of Wall Street were suddenly being openly discussed. The suffering of ordinary people crushed by the burden of medical, housing or college debt came out of the shadows.
California passed a homeowner's bill of rights to curtail the viciousness of the banks, and in late 2012, Strike Debt emerged as an Occupy offshoot to address indebtedness in creative and subversive ways. Student debt suddenly became (and remains) a topic of national discussion, and proposals for student loan reform began to gain traction.
Invisible suffering was made visible. And, though Occupy was never primarily about electoral politics, it was nonetheless a significant part of the conversation that got Elizabeth Warren elected senator and prompted a few other politicians to do good things in the cesspit of the capital.
Change often happens when the brutality of the status quo is made visible and therefore intolerable. [...]
Occupy Wall Street allowed those silenced by shame, invisibility or lack of interest from the media to speak up. ... [T]he media and politicians had to change their language to adjust to a series of previously ignored realities.
Part of what gave Occupy its particular beauty was the way the movement defined "we" as the 99%. That phrase (along with that contagious meme "the 1%") entered our language, offering a far more inclusive way of imagining the world.
Occupy is still working behind the scenes. I know this because I communicate regularly with those who are deeply involved, and I see reports of their impressive accomplishments. The tents are now gone, the drums stopped beating... but Occupy's heart didn't.
Today's L.A. Times letters to the editor, because our voices matter:
Your dismissive article on the Occupy movement was mean-spirited and wrong.
Occupy's very visible, if inchoate, public illumination of what was and is wrong in America changed the political dialogue in this country. It received media attention, it raised consciousness, and it showed that organizing could make a difference (take a look at labor's recent victory at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles). It also left a legacy of very worthwhile programs, most notably Occupy's Rolling Jubilee program, which asks people to give small donations to a fund so other people can get out of debt and save their homes from foreclosure.
Rolling Jubilee is a beautiful thing. It may be that the first phase of Occupy's mission is over, but in communities all across America, not only does it do good work but its spirit lives.
It has never been easy to find a balance between cities' responsibilities to protect residents from public disturbance and to respect free speech. However, new rules such as raising fees for permits to hold protests and higher fines for violations are extreme.
Silencing dissent narrows the perspectives on social issues by limiting what less-powerful groups can bring to the negotiating table in their fight for equality and justice.
My pal Lee Camp does it again. Let's not forget what Occupy did for us, how it changed this country for the better. Protest and change are messy, but this one was, and is, mandatory.
A year ago Occupy Wall Street burst onto the scene, changing the conversations going on around this country and perhaps the world. Has it had some defeats, some hurdles, some difficulties? Sure. But who honestly thought it wouldn't? This war isn't over. [LeeCamp.net]
I noticed something in yesterday's news coverage of the Occupy protests yesterday (May Day): Most of it was about violence, anarchists, destruction, protesters smashing windows, police making arrests... in other words, a slew of negative stories.
I follow a whole lot of news outlets and journalists on Twitter, and nearly every one of them tweeted headlines like those. Several of us were tweeting back, asking where the positive reports about the Occupiers were, because, after all, the M.O. of the original Occupy Wall Street movement was non-violent, even thoughtful and creative, demonstrations against social and economic inequality, corporate influence on government, greed, and the wealth gap between the richest 1% of Americans and 99% of the population who are struggling to make ends meet.
The only news I saw that reflected the mostly peaceful day of protest were from fellow bloggers and activists, and one from the L.A. Times.
When I opened my morning L.A. Times today, in fact, the headlines I saw were "5 in Cleveland charged with planning to blow up bridge on May Day" and Seattle May Day protest marked by vandalism, arrests.
Buried in the Cleveland story was this:
The suspect, identified as Doug Wright, 26, described himself as an anarchist and complained about Occupy's unwillingness to take violent action.
When one of the demonstration's organizers said the Occupiers wanted no more than peaceful civil disobedience, one member of the [anarchist] group near Wright walked away in disgust, cursing.
So, news media, where were your headlines informing readers that Occupy is a peaceful movement that is so "unwilling to take violent action" that a disgusted anarchist felt compelled to curse?
Naysayers and doubters take note: The Occupy movement is alive and well and yes, even influential, despite all the demeaning comments, smears, accusations, and harsh criticisms. The camps may be gone, but the protests are still going strong, albeit it in different forms, like targeting the November elections, for one.
So stay tuned, springtime is giving birth to Occupy Version 2.0.
Thanks to Think Progress for documenting the accomplishments of the Occupy movement. Turns out that motley crew of dirty smelly hippie rapists did have a few goals, and some of them have even been *gasp!* met:
Occupy groups have shifted the national debate on taxes and inequality, helped homeowners stay in their homes, forced major policy issues to the forefront of debate at the state and federal level, and gotten the attention of the institutions they’ve challenged most forcefully.
I'll give you the "what they accomplished" bullet points, TP gives you the details:
Before Occupy, we didn't hear political leaders and government officials use terms like "the 99%" and "1%ers". Now it's commonplace.
Occupy the Voting Booth coming to a polling place near you, in November!
The Occupy movement is alive and well, and is only going to grow.
It has already changed the national conversation to jobs and income equality. That's more than either party has done before Occupy existed. Occupy THAT, America.
And then, without fail, Occupy the voting booths.
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