Wow, the one-year anniversary of the eviction of Liberty Square (aka Zuccotti Park) came and went this week. I’m bad at keeping track of what the date is on any given day — or week! And for the past several weeks I’ve had my head buried in GRE prep and school applications. So I just now realized. It occurred to me while rereading William Gamson’s article The Social Psychology of Collective Action (in Frontiers of Social Movement Theory). This made me think of a major accomplishment of OWS:
When truly hegemonic, the legitimating frame is taken for granted. Would-be challengers face the problem of overcoming a definition of the situation that they themselves may take as part of the natural order.
It is an achievement, then, for a challenger to force the sponsors of a legitimating frame to defend its underlying assumptions. The sheer existence of a symbolic contest is evidence of the breakdown of hegemony and a major accomplishment for a challenger.
OWS—which, to me, includes “spinoff” campaigns like Rolling Jubilee, Occupy Homes, and many others—is itself “evidence of the breakdown of hegemony.” Hegemony, at least concerning the ideological legitimacy of the status quo. As I’ve said elsewhere, “In a very short time span, Occupy Wall Street dramatically shifted the dominant national conversation from a conservative deficit framework to a critique of economic inequality and the political disenfranchisement of most Americans.”
I am proud of the past year, grateful for the friends I have made, hopeful for what we—and many more of us—may accomplish in the years to come. Perhaps I am guilty of eternal optimism, but I see OWS as a harbinger of things to come; even bigger and better organized waves of collective action for social and economic justice.
To borrow Gamson’s term, OWS inaugurated a critically important symbolic contest. We were well aware of this as NYPD raided Liberty Square a year ago, as Patrick Bruner and I huddled at 1:30am to put final edits on the statement we then blasted to the press:
You can’t evict an idea whose time has come.
A massive police force is presently evicting Liberty Square, home of Occupy Wall Street for the past two months and birthplace of the 99% movement that has spread across the country.
The raid started just after 1:00am. Supporters and allies are mobilizing throughout the city, presently converging at Foley Square. Supporters are also planning public actions for the coming days, including occupation actions.
You can’t evict an idea whose time has come.
Two months ago a few hundred New Yorkers set up an encampment at the doorstep of Wall Street. Since then, Occupy Wall Street has become a national and even international symbol — with similarly styled occupations popping up in cities and towns across America and around the world. The Occupy movement was inspired by simliar occupations and uprisings such as those during Arab Spring, and in Spain, Greece, Italy, France, and the UK.
A growing popular movement has significantly altered the national narrative about our economy, our democracy, and our future. Americans are talking about the consolidation of wealth and power in our society, and the stranglehold that the top 1% have over our political system. More and more Americans are seeing the crises of our economy and our democracy as systemic problems, that require collective action to remedy. More and more Americans are identifying as part of the 99%, and saying “enough!”
This burgeoning movement is more than a protest, more than an occupation, and more than any tactic. The “us” in the movement is far broader than those who are able to participate in physical occupation. The movement is everyone who sends supplies, everyone who talks to their friends and families about the underlying issues, everyone who takes some form of action to get involved in this civic process.
This moment is nothing short of America rediscovering the strength we hold when we come together as citizens to take action to address crises that impact us all.
Such a movement cannot be evicted. Some politicians may physically remove us from public spaces — our spaces — and, physically, they may succeed. But we are engaged in a battle over ideas. Our idea is that our political structures should serve us, the people — all of us, not just those who have amassed great wealth and power. We believe that is a highly popular idea, and that is why so many people have come so quickly to identify with Occupy Wall Street and the 99% movement.