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Occupy Wall Street

“Another World Is Possible”: How Occupy Wall Street Reshaped Politics, Kicked Off New Era of Protest

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Published on September 20, 2021 5:16 AM
On the 10th anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, we examine the legacy of the historic protests with three veterans of the movement: Nelini Stamp, now the director of strategy and partnerships at the Working Families Party; Jillian Johnson, a key organizer in Occupy Durham who now serves on the Durham City Council and is the city's mayor pro tempore; and writer and filmmaker Astra Tayor, an organizer with the Debt Collective.

Occupy Wall Street "broke the spell" protecting the economic status quo and marked a major shift in protests against capitalism, Taylor says. "Occupy kind of inaugurated this social movement renaissance," she tells Democracy Now! "We've been in an age of defiant protest ever since Occupy Wall Street."

Democracy Now! produces a daily, global, independent news hour hosted by award-winning journalists Amy Goodman and Juan González. Our reporting includes breaking daily news headlines and in-depth interviews with people on the front lines of the world's most pressing issues.

On DN!, you'll hear a diversity of voices speaking for...

Occupy Wall Street

Occupy Wall Street was a protest movement against economic inequality that began in Zuccotti Park, located in New York City's Wall Street financial district, in September 2011. It gave rise to the wider Occupy movement in the United States and other countries.

The Canadian anti-consumerist magazine Adbusters initiated the call for a protest. The main issues raised by Occupy Wall Street were social and economic inequality, greed, corruption and the undue influence of corporations on government—particularly from the financial services sector. The OWS slogan, 'We are the 99%', refers to income and wealth inequality in the U.S. between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of the population. To achieve their goals, protesters acted on consensus-based decisions made in general assemblies which emphasized redress through direct action over the petitioning to authorities.

The protesters were forced out of Zuccotti Park on November 15, 2011. Protesters then turned their focus to occupying banks, corporate headquarters, board meetings, foreclosed homes, and college and university campuses.


The original protest was called for by Kalle Lasn and others of Adbusters, a Canadian anti-consumerist publication, who conceived of a September 17 occupation in Lower Manhattan. The first such proposal appeared on the Adbusters website on February 2, 2011, under the title 'A Million Man March on Wall Street.' Lasn registered the web address on June 9. The website has since been taken down. In a blog post on July 13, 2011, Adbusters proposed a peaceful occupation of Wall Street to protest corporate influence on democracy, the lack of legal consequences for those who brought about the global crisis of monetary insolvency, and an increasing disparity in wealth. The protest was promoted with an image featuring a dancer atop Wall Street's iconic Charging Bull statue.

Individuals associated with Anonymous created a video encouraging its supporters to take part in the protests. The U.S. Day of Rage, a group that organized to protest 'corporate influence corrupts our political parties, our elections, and the institutions of government', also joined the movement. The protest itself began on September 17; a Facebook page for the demonstrations began two days later on September 19 featuring a YouTube video of earlier events. By mid-October, Facebook listed 125 Occupy-related pages.

The original location for the protest was One Chase Manhattan Plaza, with Bowling Green Park and Zuccotti Park as alternate choices. Police discovered this before the protest began and fenced off two locations; but they left Zuccotti Park, the group's third choice, open. Since the park was private property, police could not legally force protesters to leave without being requested to do so by the property owner. At a press conference held the same day the protests began, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg explained, 'people have a right to protest, and if they want to protest, we'll be happy to make sure they have locations to do it.'

More recent prototypes for OWS include the British student protests of 2010, 2009-2010 Iranian election protests, the Arab Spring protests, and, more closely related, protests in Chile, Greece, Spain and India. Occupy Wall Street, in turn, gave rise to the Occupy movement in the United States. Background

'We are the 99%

The Occupy protesters' slogan 'We are the 99%' referred to the income disparity in the US and economic inequality in general, which were main issues for OWS. It derives from a 'We the 99%' flyer calling for OWS's second General Assembly in August 2011. The variation 'We are the 99%' originated from a Tumblr page of the same name. Huffington Post reporter Paul Taylor said the slogan was 'arguably the most successful slogan since 'Hell no, we won't go!' of the Vietnam War era, and that the vast majority of Americans saw the income gap as causing social friction. The slogan was boosted by statistics which were confirmed by a Congressional Budget Office report released in October 2011.

Income and wealth inequality

Income inequality and Wealth Inequality were focal points of the Occupy Wall Street protests. This focus by the movement was studied by Arindajit Dube and Ethan Kaplan of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who noted that '... Only after it became increasingly clear that the political process was unable to enact serious reforms to address the causes or consequences of the economic crisis did we see the emergence of the OWS movement.'


OWS's goals included a reduction in the influence of corporations on politics, more balanced distribution of income, more and better jobs, bank reform , forgiveness of student loan debt or other relief for indebted students, and alleviation of the foreclosure situation. Some media labeled the protests 'anti-capitalist', while others disputed the relevance of this label.

Some protesters favored a fairly concrete set of national policy proposals. One OWS group that favored specific demands created a document entitled the 99 Percent Declaration, but this was regarded as an attempt to 'co-opt' the 'Occup'y name, and the document and group were rejected by the General Assemblies of Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Philadelphia.

During the occupation in Liberty Square, a declaration was issued with a list of grievances. The declaration stated that the 'grievances are not all-inclusive'.

Main organization

The assembly was the main OWS decision-making body and used a modified consensus process, where participants attempted to reach consensus and then dropped to a 9/10 vote if consensus was not reached.

Assembly meetings involved OWS working groups and affinity groups, and were open to the public for both attendance and speaking. The meetings lacked formal leadership. Participants commented upon committee proposals using a process called a 'stack', which is a queue of speakers that anyone can join. New York used a progressive stack, in which people from marginalized groups are sometimes allowed to speak before people from dominant groups. Facilitators and 'stack-keepers' urge speakers to 'step forward, or step back' based on which group they belong to, meaning that women and minorities often moved to the front of the line, while white men often had to wait for a turn to speak. In addition to the over 70 working groups, the organizational structure also includes 'spokes councils', at which every working group can participate.

The People's Library

The People's Library at Occupy Wall Street was started a few days after the protest when a pile of books was left in a cardboard box at Zuccotti Park. The books were passed around and organized, and as time passed, it received additional books and resources from readers, private citizens, authors and corporations. As of November 2011 the library had 5,554 books cataloged in LibraryThing and its collection was described as including some rare or unique articles of historical interest. According to American Libraries, the library's collection had 'thousands of circulating volumes', which included 'holy books of every faith, books reflecting the entire political spectrum, and works for all ages on a huge range of topics.'

There were already libraries in the encampments of Spain and Greece. Following the example of the OWS People's Library, protesters throughout North America and Europe formed sister libraries at their encampments.

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