For many people, the attraction and appeal of the Occupy movement is largely redundant. What was once a frenzied movement and hive of interesting theory and activity has now subsided into becoming yet another long-term protest which knows it doesn’t like the status quo but apparently has no credible alternative solution to offer instead. Throw a large community of substance abusers, ex-military personnel and anarchists into the equation and it’s easy to see why the integrity and intention of the Occupy movement are under suspicion.
That being said, spending time with Occupy Wall Street was a refreshing and engaging experience, not least because the individuals protesting did not conform to the usual anarchist stereotype. A year of sleeping rough on the streets is enough to dampen even the most rebellious of rebels and whilst their ferocity and passion against the current capitalist regime remained strong, it was clear that a dose of realism had also began to infiltrate the organisation and individuals representing it.
The problems they face are internal as well as external (how do you organise a group of anarchists in the first place!?!) but the days of revolution and revolt appear to be a distant goal rather than an obsessive focus amongst the protesters. Instead, there is a clear focus on discussion and collaboration to take small steps to reduce the perceived inadequacies of the banking system. Several of the protesters said how conversations with bankers and traders along Wall Street had changed their ideas about the 1%. As a result, bankers are not so much the focus of their anger as the institutions that support them. A manifesto leaflet highlighted issues such as the controversial ‘stop and frisk’ tactic in New York as something to rally against. The idea being that if Occupy can attach itself to smaller campaigns with set targets, they may be able to indirectly develop their own identity and increase their appeal to other marginalised communities.
TED has clear (and sensible) guidelines about avoiding the blurry effect that politics and activism can have on objective standpoints. For that reason, TEDxNottingham would never declare an opinion on the merits or problems that the Occupy movement might create. Nevertheless, aside from the politics and campaigning, the Occupy movement is notable for its longevity and persistence in trying to change a problem. A long and peaceful commitment to a cause you strongly believe in is worthy of respect regardless of what the cause may be. The occupy movement may have drifted away from the mainstream media, but in the next 12 months it may not be a surprise if its influence is found in other smaller and more targeted campaigns that TED and TEDx may become involved with.
At the very minimum, the Occupy movement’s legacy is a reminder that a desire to achieve a goal or dream can cause people to do extraordinary things. This, coupled with the capability of social media to spread ideas like wildfire, can be the catalyst for action that goes far beyond the individual itself. Even if you disagree with or are indifferent to the Occupy movement’s aims or methods, their legacy this aspect is worthy of both praise and recognition.
Ultimately, the best way to understand something is to communicate with it. By spending time with Occupy Wall Street, you can develop a much better idea of what these people are so angry about and just how committed they are to changing. You may not agree with them, you may even be disapproving of them but you could find the commitment that some people show to changing the world and fighting for their cause is both remarkable and humbling.