Since its beginning, Occupy Wall Street and the protests it spawned across the country have faced critics who say it has no goals and wouldn’t achieve any substantial accomplishments. “In fact, the sum total of what Occupy Wall Street has accomplished is zero,” a New York Post columnist wrote in November. “Inspiring chat around the national watercooler is not an achievement.”
The movement turned six months old last Saturday, and a closer look at its record of achievement reveals that it has done more than spark conversation around Wall Street’s watercoolers. Occupy groups have shifted the national debate on taxes and inequality, helped homeowners stay in their homes, forced major policy issues to the forefront of debate at the state and federal level, and gotten the attention of the institutions they’ve challenged most forcefully. With that in mind, ThinkProgress compiled a brief list of Occupy Wall Street’s accomplishments over its first six months:
Income Inequality: The 99 Percent movement refocused America’s political debate, forcing news outlets and eventually politicians to focus on rising income inequality. While debt and deficits were the primary focus of the media before the movement started, their attention after the movement began shifted to jobs, Wall Street, and unemployment. By the end of October, even Republicans were talking about income inequality, and a week later, Time Magazine devoted its cover to the topic, asking, “Can you still move up in America?”
Occupy Our Homes: The movement has drawn attention to many of the predatory, discriminatory, and fraudulent practices perpetrated by banks during the foreclosure crisis, and across the country, Occupy groups, religious leaders, and community organizations have helped homeowners prevent wrongful foreclosures on their homes. Activists in Detroit are working to save their fifth home, and similar actions have taken place in cities like Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Cleveland, and Atlanta. The movement has drawn so much attention that local political leaders and even members of Congress have stepped in to help homeowners facing foreclosure.
Move Your Money: On Bank Transfer Day, activists helped more than 40,000 Americans move their money from large banks to credit unions, and more than 650,000 switched to credit unions last October. Religious groups have taken up the cause as well, moving $55 million before Thanksgiving. This year, a San Francisco interfaith group moved $10 million from Wells Fargo and other groups marked Lent by moving more money from Wall Street. As a result, analysts say the nation’s 10 biggest banks could lose $185 billion in customer deposits this year “due to customer defections.”
Fighting For Positive Policies: Occupy groups have pushed for positive policy outcomes at both the state and federal levels. Occupy The SEC submitted a 325-page comment letter on the Volcker Rule, a regulation to rein in big banks. Pressure from protesters forced New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to reverse his opposition to a millionaire’s tax, and activists fought Indiana Republicans’ union-busting “right-to-work” law, and have pushed big banks to stop financing destructive environmental practices like mountaintop removal mining in coal states.
Though many of the camps across the country have been disbanded, the 99 Percent Movement isn’t going away. Organizers have continued fighting at the state level, pushing back against banks on fraudulent foreclosures and other issues, and have now turned their attention to the 2012 presidential elections. Movement leaders in New York, meanwhile, are developing high-tech ways to organize protests and keep the movement going. Occupy is starting to assert a political influence, pushing multiple candidates and even running for office themselves — in both Maine and Pennsylvania, former Occupy activists are running for public office.
“It’s changed the language,” one protester told the Wall Street Journal. “It’s brought out a lot of issues that people are talking about. … And that’s the start of change.”