Occupy History: Will We Remember OWS as a Footnote or a Chapter?

Is "What did Occupy accomplish?" the right question?

Andrew Ross Sorkin wrote a column in the New York Timescalling Occupy Wall Street a "fad."

His point is that, even in the week of the anniversary of the beginning of the Occupy movement, you can't point to much progress as a direct result of the widely covered protests.

[C]onsider this: Has the debate over breaking up the banks that were too big to fail, save for a change of heart by the former chairman of Citigroup, Sanford I. Weill, really changed or picked up steam as a result of Occupy Wall Street? No. Have any new regulations for banks or businesses been enacted as a result of Occupy Wall Street? No. Has there been any new meaningful push to put Wall Street executives behind bars as a result of Occupy Wall Street? No.

And even on the issues of economic inequality and upward mobility — perhaps Occupy Wall Street’s strongest themes — has the movement changed the debate over executive compensation or education reform? It is not even a close call.


These are important points, and it might be a pretty good checklist for early Occupy if it had been into that sort of thing. But one of the hallmarks of the movement right at the outset was to organize and act outside of the political system (and Felix Salmon responds nicely on that here)—which takes those types of reforms off the table.

So what did Occupy do? Salon tried to tackle that question two days before the Sorkin column by talking to people who were (or are) involved as well as people who covered it or commented on it. And here's something that comes up in some form a few times:

Nathan Schneider, New York freelance journalist and editor at Occupy website Waging Non-Violence:

One of the refrains I keep hearing is this: “After this year I know the people I’ll be organizing with my whole life.” A lot has been said about how the Occupy movement “changed” “the conversation,” but what interests me more is what’s to come from the networks of passionate people the movement helped to create. What interests me more than its past is its future — both under the name “Occupy” and otherwise.


So which is it? Is it an "asterisk" in history, as Sorkin suggests, or is it the vanguard of future protests? Another more nugget from Salon suggested that Occupy may have been a spark that ignited energy behind the Chicago Teachers Union strike.

And that might be the most useful way to think about it: Not "What has Occupy accomplished?" but "What has Occupy caused?" Which discussions are happening now that weren't before? Which discussions still aren't happening? And now that like-minded people have connected through Occupy, what will they do?

Photo via Flickr (cc) user David Shankbone.