The Evolution of Occupy


By Tanya Silverman

Photo courtesy of David Shankbone.

Throughout the past two years, the Occupy movement has traveled far beyond the geographical location, and mission, of Wall Street.

The official birthday of Occupy Wall Street dates back to Sept. 17, 2011, in Manhattan’s Financial District, where people gathered to confront issues like the bank bailout and corrupt corporations – along with the influence of these economic powers over the government. Over the next few weeks, several notable related events occurred in New York City, such as the operations center and encampment being installed at Zuccotti Park as well as a protesting march over the Brooklyn Bridge where over 700 people were arrested.

By Oct. 17, 2011 Occupy was viral: Occupy-affiliated protests (if only in name alone) came up in over 900 cities, replicating the title with Occupy London, Occupy Seoul, Occupy Kuala Lumpur, and so on. While most of these Occupy localities had certain consistencies – like encampments and social media usage – each incorporated their own regional missions, from education and GMOs in Chile to the American occupation of the Philippines.

As for actions in its native New York, it should be noted that while Wall Street is not currently occupied, and no activist campsite exists in Zuccotti Park, Occupy is still alive in the city. Several commemorative events took place on this year’s September 17th anniversary. Though many have lamented the amount of “Occupy Wall Street” members of congress to counteract any Tea Party influence, mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio has stated frequently on the campaign trail that, had he been mayor, he would not have shut down Occupy Wall Street, contrary to Michael Bloomberg, who did.

Even after NYC rock icon Lou Reed passed away earlier this week, writers have deemed it important to inform the public how he supported Occupy Wall Street.

New York City’s Occupy did not just focus on Wall Street either, as number of additional missions have since developed. Following the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy, Occupy Sandy formed for volunteers to assist with relief efforts. There is also Occupy the Pipeline, an organization that opposes the Spectra natural gas pipeline that has been constructed in the city and New Jersey.

Yet of the many different Occupy-affiliates, official or otherwise, Occupy Portland is perhaps the best recognized aside from the original. One Oregonian activist, Kari Koch, remembers the premier 2011 days of the protests. Having heard about the 700 people being arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge, Koch decided to attend a meeting to organize under Portland’s Burnside Bridge, after which she found herself then participating in the encampment site.

Koch tells BTR that her city held a small commemoration for the September 17th anniversary, but any related activism in Portland has largely transformed into an effort to maintain people’s right to housing. Portland residents who wanted to act for clean drinking water formed Occupy Mount Tabor (named after one of the city’s reservoirs).

On a global scale, Koch recalls when she traveled to Brazil last year with Grassroots Global Justice to attend Rio Plus 20, a forum with 30,000 participants.

“People kept asking me about the Occupy movement,” says Koch. “They were so excited that people from the United States had radical, or arguably even revolutionary, politics and were standing up and trying to fight back against the inequalities and corporatization of wealth and power. It really struck a chord internationally, especially with people who had long been doing work fighting neo-liberalism and imperialism.”

Kari Koch had the opportunity to meet people from Occupy Rio and connected with Occupy Mexico City during the event.

“Occupy created these networks of people who might not have known each other prior, to be able to network, organize, discuss and promote every aspect of everything they’re working on,” says Kip Silverman, another participant in the original Occupy Portland encampment.

Occupy’s networks (or the Occupy networks) have certainly proliferated online. This year, Turkish protestors made use of the tumblr page, Occupy Gezi, to chronicle photographs and videos of rallies against authoritative Islamist policy in their country, and their consequent conflicts with authority. links to hubs that discuss topics like the murder of Trayvon Martin or speak against the adverse effects of microwave radiation, while offers visitors literature about anything from the Black Panthers to Fracking.

Many new Occupy afflilate movements have developed as connecting networks that hold similar missions throughout different locations, such as Occupy Monsanto, which stands against this corporation’s proliferation of GMOs, general company policy, and government influence. Occupy Our Homes aims to keep people in their residences without foreclosures or evictions.

As much as the “Occupy” brand has been attached to a variety of causes, some protests have had to make it a point that they were not direct affiliates of this movement. For instance, when Restore the Fourth was organizing against NSA surveillance this summer, they had to inform the public that they were not affiliated with Occupy Wall Street, but that they did welcome Occupy participants.

Some interpretations of the “Occupy” title have gone beyond concepts of human rights and economic fairness. In Russia, there is Occupy Pedophilia, which consists of neo-Nazis who lure gay males, trap them, embarrass them, beat them, record these incidents, and post their sessions online. It is highly unlikely that participants of this movement have any relation or support from the original Occupy Wall Street movement, or any consequent Occupy organizations, but for some reason, they have chosen to incorporate the title for their efforts.

Has Occupy evolved into an inclusive mission that connects all global and local cases of social, economic, and political injustice? Is it now a fragmented patchwork of separate missions? The current meaning of the Occupy movement’s consistency, or the Occupy movements’ diversity, is left up to interpretation.