by Mark Naison
December 16, 2011
Many people in the media complain that Occupy Wall Street has no leaders and no goals. While Occupy Wall Street and its spin-offs around the nation have certainly not developed “leaders” who articulate its goals to the media or negotiate with public officials, it has already registered a formidable list of accomplishments for a movement this young.
The evictions of Occupy protesters by law enforcement authorities using helicopters, tear gas, pepper spray, bulldozers and rubber bullets and occasionally using Patriot Act protocols to prevent journalists from reporting on the evictions have only made the movement stronger, encouraging it to take the Occupy movement into working class communities of color who have long been under duress from regressive and discriminatory economic policies and the abuse of police power.
Here is my list of some of the important things this movement has done, with more to come as it grows and matures…
1. Put the question of economic inequality in the center of national discourse for the first time since the 1960’s, even though such inequality has been growing dramatically for the last 20 years. The vocabulary the movement has developed to describe this inequality, “the 1 % and the 99%,” have become a permanent part of our political discourse and has focused great attention on how the maldistribution of wealth has undermined democracy and eroded the living standards of the great majority of Americans.
2. Called attention to the stifling impact of student loan debt on young college, professional and trade school graduates who face the double whammy of a stagnant job market and crippling debt. The attention given to this issue inspired President Obama to marginally ease the loan burden of current recipients. In the future, it might even prompt a radical reconfiguration of the debt or a major program of loan forgiveness.
4. Forced New York Governor Cuomo, whose promise not to renew the state’s millionaires’ tax drew national attention, to negotiate with state legislators a tax increase in the higher brackets to go into effect next year, which will prevent 2 billion dollars in anticipated budget cuts.
5. Inspired a wide variety of actions to prevent foreclosures and evictions and to bring relief to beleaguered home owners and tenants, including preventing the eviction of a 103 year old woman in Atlanta, forcing a Harlem landlord to restore heat to tenants, and occupying a foreclosed house in the East New York Section of Brooklyn.
6. Put the undemocratic character of many education reform policies, particularly school closings, under much greater scrutiny, creating pressures on policy makers that will make these closings much more difficult to implement without more consultation and input from parents, students, teachers and community members.
7. Given the labor movement a new vocabulary to challenge attacks on collective bargaining and union recognition, providing added ammunition to the successful campaign to defeat anti-collective bargaining bills in the states of Ohio and New Hampshire.
8. Focused attention on the issue of police brutality and the militarization of urban police forces in ways that reinforces longstanding complaints of police misconduct and abuse in Black and Latino communities.
9. Helped create a political climate which persuaded the Philadelphia District Attorney to remove the death sentence from human rights activist and journalist Mumia Abu Jamal.
10. Sparked protests against tuition increases at the nation’s public universities, especially in the California public colleges and the City University of New York (CUNY).
This would be an impressive list of accomplishments for a movement that has lasted two years. But Occupy Wall Street has only been with us for three months!
Mark Naison teaches African American Studies and History at Fordham University and is founder of the Bronx African American History Project. This article originally appeared on the author’s blog, With A Brooklyn Accent.