VOL. 127 | NO. 54 | Monday, March 19, 2012
6 Months Later, What has Occupy Protest Achieved?
MEGHAN BARR | Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) – As spring approaches, Occupy Wall Street protesters who mostly hibernated all winter are beginning to stir with plans for renewed demonstrations six months after the movement was born.
The global protests against corporate excess and economic inequality are generally thought to have begun Sept. 17 when tents sprang up in a small granite plaza in lower Manhattan. The movement has lost steam in recent months, with media attention and donations dropping off as Occupy encampments across the country were dismantled, some by force.
On March 7, the finance accounting group in New York City reported that just about $119,000 remained in Occupy's bank account – the equivalent of about two weeks' worth of expenses.
The Occupy movement has influenced the national dialogue about economic equality, with the word "occupy" itself becoming part of the public lexicon. In his third State of the Union address, President Barack Obama issued a populist call for income equality that echoed the movement's message. But has anything really changed in the past six months?
Some achievements that can be connected to the efforts of the Occupy movement, and some plans for the near future:
WHAT GOT DONE
In Albany, N.Y., Occupy protesters dubbed Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo "Gov. 1 Percent" for his refusal since the 2010 campaign to agree to a millionaire tax, and because his major campaign financial support comes from corporate executives.
Cuomo tried to evict Occupy Albany from the park co-owned by the city and the state. But the Democratic mayor, Gerald Jennings, agreed to allow Occupy Albany to stay on the city-owned side. Local Democratic District Attorney David Soares also announced he wouldn't prosecute anyone for disorderly conduct at Occupy Albany who might be arrested by state police – who answer to Cuomo.
In a surprise, Cuomo reversed his position on the millionaire tax in December to avoid further cuts to schools and health care. Part of the $2 billion in revenue went to a modest but rare income tax cut of $200 to $400 for most middle class families. Cuomo refers to the millionaire tax as the biggest tax cut for the middle class in decades.
Democratic lawmakers attributed Cuomo's move in part to the Occupy protesters who had targeted him across the street from the Capitol for months and had begun demonstrating just outside his office.
An Atlanta pastor, whose church struggled to pay its bills after its building was struck by a 2008 tornado, credits Occupy Atlanta with helping it to avoid foreclosure. The Rev. Dexter Johnson's church, the Higher Ground Empowerment Center, took out a loan to rebuild and has struggled to pay its mortgage in recent months.
Johnson said the bank had agreed to work with the church to help pay its mortgage after demonstrations by Occupy members. Demonstrators had set up a camp at the church in Atlanta's Vine City neighborhood, just west of downtown.
In January, Johnson learned his congregation would be allowed to stay in the building.
In Rhode Island, Occupy Providence pushed for – and won – a temporary day center to serve the homeless during the winter. Protesters made the center's opening a condition of their departure from a public park downtown, where they had camped against the city's wishes for more than three months.
While the city didn't fund the center, officials pledged to help its operator, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, find money for it.
"It shows that with pressure from people, a government can be made to move," protester Robert Malin said at the time of the center's opening.
The city had threatened legal action to remove the protesters and their tents from the park, but the two sides instead went into mediation before a judge.
Also in Rhode Island, the state's junior U.S. senator, Sheldon Whitehouse, introduced a bill in November to crack down on high credit card interest rates – the same week he visited the Providence encampment. While there was no direct relationship between Occupy and the bill, Whitehouse spokesman Seth Larson said Thursday, the legislation no doubt resonated with the protesters.
"It was timely, and I'm sure the Occupy folks appreciated this bill," Larson said.
Whitehouse had introduced similar legislation a year earlier.
Occupy protesters helped save an Iraq war veteran's home from foreclosure in Atlanta, the Huffington Post reported. "I strongly believe Occupy Atlanta accelerated the process and helped save my home," Brigitte Walker, whose home activists began occupying Dec. 6, told the website. "If it had not been for them standing up, I probably wouldn't be having this happy ending." Walker had left Iraq in May 2004 when she was injured by the shock from mortar rounds, the Post reported.
Occupy Minneapolis also worked with community organizers to help a former Marine who faced eviction from his home strike a deal with his bank, the Post reported.
Occupiers in New York City will commemorate the six-month mark with a rally Saturday in Zuccotti Park, where protesters camped out for months until the city ousted them in November.
Organizers are hoping donations will start to flow in as protests begin anew this spring, including a global day of "economic disruption" on May 1.
And in some states, Occupy supporters are making forays into politics. Asher Platts is running for the state senate in Maine as a "Clean Elections" candidate. Platts, an activist who attended the protests last fall, is running on an Occupy platform.
In suburban Philadelphia, Occupy protester Nathan I. Kleinman is running a write-in campaign for Congress against four-term Rep. Allyson Schwartz in the Democratic primary on April 24. The 29-year-old said he never would have mounted a run without his Occupy experience. Kleinman withdrew from the ballot after a court hearing in which Schwartz's supporters questioned some of the 1,500 required signatures he had gathered to appear on the ballot.
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Jeff Martin in Atlanta, Kathy Matheson in Philadelphia, Michael Gormley in Albany, N.Y., Erika Niedowski and David Klepper in Providence, R.I., and News Researcher Julie Reed in New York.
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