Whither the Occupy Wall Street Movement?

Occupy Wall Street movement during its peak (Getty Images)
Occupy Wall Street movement during its peak (Getty Images)

In a blog entry at Atlantic magazine, Ta-Nehisi Coates contemplates the future of the Occupy movement as protesters have been dislodged from encampments across the nation. He says that one of the movement's greatest achievements was drawing attention to the widening wealth gap.


In the New York Review of Books, Michael Greenberg is skeptical about the future of Occupy:

"Nevertheless, as Occupy Wall Street enters its fifth month, dislodged from most of the public spaces it had staked out around the country last fall, the movement seems weakened, its future uncertain. It sometimes appears to be driven by a series of tactics designed to maintain its public presence with no discernible strategy or goal — a kind of muddled, loose-themed ubiquity. The movement has proven adept at provoking media attention, but one may wonder what it amounts to, apart from its ability to reaffirm its status as a kind of protest brand name. Some core organizers are painfully aware of the situation […] "

… At the end of the piece Greenberg notes that the leadership is seeking to emulate the Civil Rights movement of the 60s. I hope no one told him that directly. If they did, Occupy reflects a poor understanding of that movement's lessons. The Civil Rights movement neither eschewed the hard work of mapping out concrete goals, nor shied away from changing laws.

The sit-ins were an attempt to desegregate public and private facilities. Segregation was made possible by law. The Civil Rights movement sought the overthrow of those laws and the establishment of new ones. The Voting Rights Act delivered the South out of quasi-feudalism into democracy. People who were alive then will gladly testify that this was a real and historically significant accomplishment.

To my mind, Occupy's greatest contribution was placing the wealth gap on the radar. But the Civil Rights movement didn't merely seek to put segregation "on the radar."  It sought to end it. To merely highlight the problem, and then to refuse to engage would have been everything the Civil Rights movement wasn't. It would have been cynical.

Read Ta-Nehisi Coates' entire blog entry at the Atlantic.