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Occupy marks its anniversary with continued protest
A year ago in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park, Occupy Wall Street launched its mission to address economic inequality in the U.S. The activism quickly spread, inspiring sister occupations throughout the country and around the world.
In the three-day celebration of its birthday in New York, the grassroots movement again staged demonstrations in Manhattan’s financial district—albeit in smaller numbers than last fall—resulting in the arrests of more than 180 people and numerous instances of police brutality.
“Everyone spread in different groups—we moved beyond the one big block, becoming more verbal,” said Astra Taylor, Monthly Review journalist and film editor, in a live video chat hosted by The Nation.
Though one year may seem like a short time for a national protest movement to impact America’s 99 percent, Occupiers will tell you they’ve done more than camp out in public parks and lift a few posters.
In the past year, the movement has gradually expanded to include a much broader spectrum of issues, including environmental problems, health care issues, gay rights, the housing crisis, and student debt.
“Now we’ve gotten more sophisticated,” said Michael Haack, freelance writer and organizer of Occupy Our Homes D.C. “Traditionally we thought about rights as like freedom of speech, but [since Occupy began] I think the conversation has changed.”
At Georgetown, GU Occupy has been spreading the founding message of the Occupy movement. Members participated in a march after the tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin, protested on Copley Lawn when Newt Gingrich visited campus, and dropped a banner reading “Stop the war on the poor! No social justice in Ryan’s budget” when now-Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan spoke in Gaston Hall, as well as held a number of teach-ins to educate students about social justice.
“I think we had a pretty successful year in bringing the more activist direct action type of attitude to Georgetown,” said Mark Waterman (SFS ‘13), a member of GU Occupy [Full disclosure: Waterman is a former Voice staffer]. “Now both Occupy D.C. and GU Occupy are trying to revive our base and our movements a little bit.”
According to Sydney Browning (COL ‘15), a fellow member of GU Occupy, the group is seeking advanced ways to pioneer growing action on the hilltop.
“[The Occupy movement] has spread and specialized, and other progressive organizations that have pre-existed revitalized themselves. We’re hoping that kind of energy can happen at Georgetown.”
In what Browning called an “explosion of activism,” GU Occupy envisions channeling its enthusiasm into other groups on campus, such as United Feminists or the Georgetown Solidarity Committee.
In the coming weeks, members of GU Occupy plan to partake in “Shut Down K Street” during Occupy D.C.’s “Week of Resistance,” which includes a variety of events celebrating the birthday of the D.C.-based General Assembly. The movement to launch a comprehensive progressive calendar on the Hilltop is a case in point of young activists emulating Occupy’s vibrant activity.
“We don’t want to lose the momentum of the initial Occupy protest, but we also want to translate that into actually doing work on Georgetown campus with our own campaign,” Browning said.
Dany Sigwalt, program manager at the Washington Peace Center, believes student activists have infinite potential for progress, but they must learn to better share resources and energy with larger movements.
“College campuses and students have a lot of connection to resources that can be used strategically,” Sigwalt said. “Making sure that college social movements are more sustainable will be very helpful in building a long term, sustainable relationship.”
Despite their many accomplishments in generating new momentum for social change, Occupiers are still unsatisfied and motivated.
“The question now is whether this movement can mobilize the networks and resources of a lot of existing roots and encourage them to step up their level of radicalism,” said Nathan Schneider, independent journalist and activist, in The Nation’s live chat.
According to Schneider, Occupy’s past year did not merely signify tens of thousands of people protesting out on the streets.
“What it was was a reflection and deepening thought of the core committed people who are determined to make this movement work, providing ways for people to find their own solutions and empower themselves.”