“Happy Birthday Occupy Wall Street … thoughts on Year One”

Fifteen years ago, I ran across a book, “100 Most Influential People in History,” during one of my dalliances to my local Marin County bookstore. “Influential People” was one man’s assessment on exactly that. But how he determined his rankings was the interesting part. They weren’t always the reasons you would think. But after thinking about it, they made complete sense. For example:

George Washington was ranked in the top 40 of all time. Understandable. But the reason why … not so much. You would think George Washington would be ranked high for being the first president of the United States, or possibly for leading the colonists to victory in the Revolutionary War. But those weren’t the reasons. The author’s reasoning: Washington stepped down after just two terms. This set a precedent that was not broken until Franklin Roosevelt 160 later. Washington did not want to replicate the situation they had just broken from in England and the monarchy of King George III.

Things are not always what they seem. And this bring us to today.

On Monday, Occupy Walls Street celebrated (if you call 180 arrests celebrating) their first anniversary. Various publications and web sites have pontificated: “What had it accomplished?” The grades weren’t high. A typical headline was similar to this in the Washington Post: The”Rise and Fall of Occupy Wall Street.”

Even with all the demonstrations and all the Occupying, what has really changed. We still have Wall Street “using and abusing” the common folk. We still have the 99% , and yes – we still have the 1%. We still have “Too Big to Fail” bankers, no matter what their indiscretion – free as birds. And we still black kids in New York City needing identification to even get back in their homes after running an errand across the street to the local market.

Occupy Wall Street is a failure … at least that’s what the experts and pundits want us to believe.

Back on May 22, I penned a blog post called “Impatience … the definition of America’s investment strategy,” chronicling America’s preoccupation with the short-term. Whether it’s the investment community’s near-sighted “lack of vision” or our obsession with personal instant gratification. It has to happen now!

The public’s view of Occupy Wall Street has fallen victim to this thinking. It makes no difference that it took decades for the civil rights movement to show results. Nor there was there any mention that it took ten years of demonstrations before Richard Nixon declared victory in Vietnam and pulled our troops out.

Both these two movements had one thing in common. They both had defined goals, goals with an endpoint. The civil rights movement wanted legislation passed outlawing discrimination, which it got in 1964. And the war protests wanted the end of American involvement in the Vietnam War, which happened with the withdrawals in 1973. But what is the defined goal of the Occupy Movement. You can’t get rid of Wall Street and you can’t mandate economic equality. Capitalism, and the pursuit of more than your neighbor, is and always has been the foundation of the American Dream.

So what is Occupy actually all about? In my opinion, Occupy Wall Street and all its Occupy offspring are about injustice. But more than that, it’s about the lack of our governmental action rectifying these injustices.

Using this criteria, Occupy doesn’t appear to have fared too well. As I mentioned above, no bankers are in jail, income disparity flourishes and corporate America is marching like Sherman, unimpeded, in pursuit of a full-blown plutocracy. But let’s go back to patience, or should I say, lack of.

The war against injustice will continue indefinitely, well past the time we’re all dead and gone. There will be battles that are won, and battles that will be lost. And there will always be skirmishes on the margins. All we can do is keep fighting the fight, because the forces driving the injustices won’t let up in their drive to domination. But positive results will only happen incrementally. We have to have the patience and the resolve to recognize this.

So where does the Occupy Movement fit into this discussion. Occupy has defined the fight!

They coined the term the 99%, aside from the ubiquitous activist rallying call “Occupy!” It’s here where the Movement matters. They have pushed the dialogue of corporate and economic disparity to the front of the world’s attention. And Occupy didn’t stop in Manhattan on Wall Street. It has spread worldwide, uniting people around a plethora of causes. Whether it be protesting banks, Wal-Mart or even Monsanto and their global modification initiative, you can’t get away from a Twitter hashtag with “#occupy” in front. Don’t take my word for it. Check out this map of global proliferation of the Occupy Movement.

This is why Occupy Wall Street and all its children matter … and this is why Occupy has succeeded. It is the spark that lit the proverbial fire, a fire that will only spread. There may be temporary breaks put in place by the establishment “firefighters,” but in the end – they will be overrun!  What form Occupy takes is anyone’s guess? Will it even exist as a separate entity? Does it even matter?

Only years down the road will we truly come appreciate the effect the Occupy Movement has had on our lives. Because  then it and its agenda will have become imbedded in our societal fabric.

Let us just have patience.


You can find me on Twitter at @clayforsberg


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