The Occupy Movement At Two: Many Voices, Many Messages

By 10 a.m. Tuesday, several hundred people had already gathered in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park to mark the second anniversary of the movement known as Occupy Wall Street.

With many people coming and going, heading for actions like a McDonald’s protest or a march on Washington Square Park, it was difficult to assess actual numbers. Much like Occupy itself, groups changed and reformed all morning.

At 10:30 a.m., Sumumba Sobukwe, a spokesman for the group Occupy Evolve, mounted the Zuccotti Park steps for a news conference. And if you’ve been wondering what Occupy’s issues are now, on its second anniversary, Sumumba was concise.

“The issue of money out of politics, the issue of police brutality, the issue of corporations running over our democracy, is what it’s about,” he shouted to the crowd.

Among Tuesday’s actions was a rally in support of near the United Nations in support of a levy on financial institutions known as the Robin Hood tax. Melinda Markowitz, a nurse from California and a member of the group National Nurses United, says it would impose a 0.5 percent tax on Wall Street firms, which she says would create billions to support education and infrastructure. She says 200 different organizations support the tax.

Another speaker, author and journalist Chris Hedges, talked about his lawsuit against the detention of American citizens without due process. Cathy O’Neil from Occupy’s Alternative Banking Working Group was there to celebrate what she called a birth.

“The birth of a book,” she shouts, the crowd echoing her words with the technique called “the human microphone.” “It’s called Occupy Finance. We wrote it.”

Every week for two years, the working group has been meeting at Columbia University to discuss the financial system. O’Neil, a former math professor who once worked at a hedge fund with Larry Summers and now does data science, says her group has a precise mission: to address financial reform and end the concept of “too big to fail.”

And their book, which they handed out for free, “explains how the systems uses us, how the bankers scam us, how the regulators fail to do their job,” O’Neil calsl out, the crowd chanting after her.

The conventional wisdom about Occupy is that its lack of leaders doomed it, and that, unlike the Tea Party, it didn’t figure out how to garner political power.

But there’s another view, too. Occupy activist Nancy Mancias says that by emphasizing growing income inequality and the 99 percent, Occupy changed the national conversation.

“Occupy Wall Street brought the economic crisis, the discussion of the economy, to the front burner,” Mancias says.

Some commenters says this shift gave traction to the “47 Percent” speech that may ultimately have doomed presidential candidate Mitt Romney and fueled the progressive candidacy of Bill de Blasio, who could well become New York’s next mayor.

Cathy O’Neil, the data scientist with the alternative banking group, says it’s hard to pinpoint cause and effect, but, she says, “Look at Larry Summers. He also didn’t get the Fed chair. And I am not going to say it was us, but I’m going to tell you, it was partly us.

“We brought up these issues,” O’Neil continues. “We made people think about not continuing to reward the people who were responsible for the mess.”

So Occupy is still around in its many, often disorganized forms, still working to change the conversation.

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