Occupy the Future

Ten years from now, what will the Occupy demonstrations look like in our collective rearview mirror? Is this a flash in the pan, fated to fizzle in the face of diffusion and growing animosity from authorities? Or will the movement have a lasting impact, changing the way the country—and the world—does business?

We don’t need to wait 10 years to find out. Occupy is already a success.

Conservatives, and much of the mainstream media, have from the beginning sought to marginalize the protests, most commonly with variations of “they’re not specific enough about their demands.” (That one is often repeated by would-be allies as well.) More recently, right-wing figures have sought to paint the Occupiers with the “class warfare” brush.

The next few months are likely to be a defining period for the public demonstrations. Local officials—mostly under the claim that the First Amendment is trumped by sanitation issues or, ironically, “reclaiming public space for all”—have increasingly sought to eliminate the tent cities by force, hoping that with less of a physical presence the movement will fade into insignificance.

But spring is on the way, and warmer weather promises to bring with it a resurgence of these 21st century Hoovervilles. Remember Hoovervilles? Some of the Depres-sion-era settlements of mostly homeless people lasted 10 years—and helped push the political leaders of the 1930s to enact the whole range of New Deal programs for the poor and dispossessed. In fact, they helped change the whole social contract.

And that’s where Occupy has already succeeded, its legacy already established: It has changed the conversation.

It’s easy to forget that as recently as last summer “wealth inequality” was hardly a footnote in public discourse. Few were talking about the “99 percent,” or even fairness, as programs intended to combat poverty and help the vulnerable were shoved toward the chopping block of deficit reduction.

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