Posted by: Mark Gimein on December 7, 2011 at 10:30 AM
Three weeks ago, when New York City evicted the protesters from Zuccotti Park, it was not immediately clear what the outcome of the raid would be. I wrote in one post that the goals of the protesters in Zuccotti Park had become increasingly utopian, and that the eviction might have been an opportune ending for the pragmatists in the movement. In another post I wrote that the media, blocked by police from the raid, awaited a next act.
It’s pretty clear now that on some things I was wrong. The most immediate result of the eviction of the Occupy Wall Street protesters was to embolden other cities to move against their own encampments. The shutdown of the New York protests was a sign that mayors could sweep the streets without lasting repercussions—particularly if they made the effort to keep the press at a distance. In short order, Los Angeles and Seattle removed their protests with little criticism from the press.
Now that has been followed by another round of removals, the latest in Washington, DC and Portland, Oregon. The end doesn’t seem opportune for any part of the movement—utopian or pragmatic, moderate or radical. The bottom line is that the Occupy movement simply has not been able to attract anything like the attention it did when there was an occupation for the media to film.
Zuccotti Park itself is now almost entirely empty. It remains surrounded by police barricades. On a rainy Tuesday, there was one narrow entrance, for those willing to push past the police and security personnel leaning against the metal barriers to obscure even that small opening. Inside there were no more than a dozen people.
On Google, searches for Occupy Wall Street peaked in mid-October, about a month into the New York protests. They jumped up again when the city cleared the park, and have since resumed a rapid slide. The Google Trends chart is above. John Heilemann, in his New York Magazine cover story about the Occupy protests, said that those involved believed that “after a brief period of retrenchment, the protests will be back even bigger and with a vengeance in the spring.” That feels less likely now.
At the two month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, my colleague Dan Beucke tallied changing the national conversation as one of the movement’s wins. That remains right. There’s no question that it has massively increased the discussion of income and poverty, and brought Wall Street and the banking industry back to the forefront of the national debate more than three years after the financial crisis first hit.
In the next day or so, we’ll be taking out the “Occupy” part from the title of this blog (“Occupy Wall Street: The Wealth Debate” — shortly we’ll change the banner at the top and you’ll no longer see that), and keep it going as simply “The Wealth Debate.” Whether or not there are any further street protests, all the issues that Occupy Wall Street crystallized will remain a huge part of the national conversation through the election.
One aspect of that conversation that’s especially worth watching is who will benefit from any after-shocks of the Occupy movement. Democrats? Republicans? Neither? Many folks assume that the anger at the political and financial establishment stirred up by Occupy will generally work to the advantage of the left. To my mind, though, that’s not at all obvious. Both parties have plenty of experience in marshalling anger at the establishment to their own advantage. The anger at “Wall Street” that Occupy has unleashed on the left shades easily into anger at the “Harvard-educated elites” on the right. How that clash of contrasting resentments plays out will to a great extent shape the political narrative of the next year.
(Chart via Google Trends. Photograph: Zuccotti Park, Dec. 6, Mark Gimein)