The Occupy Wall Street Movement And Its Effect On America

The Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011 was a protest where, in simple terms, the poor rose up against the rich. It was a protest movement that demanded change and in turn sparked the restructuring of American political views on economic inequality for years to come. It was a political awakening that enlightened America, and potentially the entire world, to the fact that a weak economy was due to the inequality that favored the wealthy over the less fortunate. The current political system within the United States was set up where roughly 99% of the population are just collateral damage within the battle of the rich to get even more rich. In protest, many activists as well as concerned citizens came together in the Occupy Wall Street movement to speak up and voice their concerns in the form of a non-violent and highly media driven series of events. Though the occupy movement began on Wall Street, it quickly spread to other cities across the continent including Canada. Therefore, I will discuss how Occupy Wall Street, a seemingly failed Marxist revolution, had a huge impact on the political restructuring of American politics years later. The result is that American politicians and policy makers now take economic inequality and the well being of the majority (the 99%) more seriously than ever in the past.

In this paper, I will begin by discussing what Occupy Wall Street was, how it came to be, and where it began. Following this I will provide information on why I believe Occupy Wall Street is an example of Marxist politics. Lastly, I will explain how despite failing as a movement based on traditional measures it was significant in both triggering and impacting the restructuring on American politics for years to come.

What was Occupy Wall Street

Occupy Wall Street was an event that took American politicians, business leaders, and members of the 1% (The USA’s most wealthy individuals and families) by surprise. It was a movement orchestrated by a challenge introduced in an article from Adbusters magazine to “bring a tent” and stand up to the Wall street banks, corporations, and other elitists that gained wealth at the cost of the 99%.This movement proved the progressive era to be true, as many veteran activists and concerned individuals banded together to voice their concerns at a government that could be considered putty in the hands of these financial giants. It was as if David had finally attacked Goliath and through inspiration from similar movements such as the recent 2010 Arab Springs movement, the 99% was no longer willing to stand idly by. Thus people began to speak up against social and economic inequality, corruption, and the powerful influence of corporations on the government. The Occupy Wall Street movement was birthed on September 17, 2011 at Zuccotti Park in New York City. However, the movement quickly spread to other cities and countries becoming international phenomenon with “demonstrations taking place in more than 80 countries around the world”. Quickly the phrase “we are the 99%” was coined as activists built on their traction through social media and news outlets in efforts to spread their cause and get more people involved. The most prevalent issues often presented as OWS trademark concerns were to do with “inequality/the 1%, money in politics, corporate greed, student debt/access to education, unions/labor rights issues, and several other pressing issues.”

OWS and Marxism

Occupy Wall Street was a movement that, I believe, in many ways can be referred to as a form of Marxist revolution as it shows the premise of a struggle between classes. However, it is important to note “even though some activists were from the working class, their semi-privileged position made them more apt to embrace middle-class attitudes regarding the methods and goals of struggle”. Loosely defined, a Marxist revolution can be described as a social revolution where a working class or proletarian class stands up against the bourgeoisie or upper class in order to achieve a set of goals or distinct goal, often times associated with the economy and financial issues. Marxism puts much emphasis on action and that revolution is the only means of achieving success for those within the working class or in this situation apart of the 99%. Marx’s implies that people make their choices based on where their class is economically and that actions are dictated by the prosperity of one’s class. I believe a connection can be found when analyzing the Occupy movement through a Marxist lens, an example being that the movement itself is based upon a working-class revolution that calls for the replacement of Capitalism. Occupy Wall Street’s Demands Working Group brought forward the proposal of “Jobs for All” which read: 

“We demand a massive public works and public service program with direct government employment at prevailing (union) wages, paid for by taxing the rich and corporations, by immediately ending all America’s wars, and by ending all aid to authoritarian regimes to create 25 million new jobs. These jobs are open to all, regardless of documentation/immigration status or criminal record.”

They sought to achieve this goal and force the hands of capitalists through social action and revolutionary measures. Despite the claims of the Demand Working Group, that their demands were reasonable and practical, the results were extremely reformist perspectives and demands. An example being that they called for the ending of all America’s wars which is an essentially unachievable goal within a highly imperialist system such as the United States. The requests of the Demand Working Groups were reformist and unrealistic in requiring solutions that may be considered very unattainable. Therefore, as one would suspect it results in the struggle between classes as there is no doubt that “bourgeoisie in advanced capitalist countries, when facing serious social and economic dilemmas, will in its decisions and choices be guided also by the considerations of rivalry between the two systems and its fear of the possible reactions of the masses in the respective countries”. Therefore, as Marx discusses the only way to revolution or reform will happen through class struggle and class action, violent or non-violent. In the case of Occupy Wall Street activists took a non-violent approach through protests, marches, and land occupation to drive home their point and fight for change. 

Restructuring of American Politics Years Later

OWS in recent years has proved to have had a profound effect on the way American politics is structured today. When looking at the movement from a traditional perspective it would be considered a complete failure. It never effectively articulated a goal or achieved a significance objective despite all the media and international attention received throughout the movement. In many ways one could compare Occupy Wall Street more to a dramatic performance and then an actual organized and structured effort of activism. Nonetheless, what’s important to understand is that Occupy Wall Street “spread across the world, motivating thousands to voice their anger at financial and social inequality (…) demonstrations took place in more than 80 countries around the world.” The Occupy movement was and is an international phenomenon that brought together thousands of people to stand up for economic injustices and, as mentioned previously stop corrupt politicians from ignoring the economic wellbeing of the 99%. The movement was structurally challenged and journalists complained that it would not provide a simple list of demands or a program. However, others felt that this could be considered “part of its brilliance and a source of its success lay in refusing this is favor of a much broader evocation of outrage”. By refusing to simply state their goals it allowed for a more diverse and larger scale of protest. A positive that came with this populist mobilization and building the movement through a more “for the people” campaign is that it allowed for different places to speak different messages and thus properly articulate concerns that were relevant to their political structuring and financial inequalities. Therefore, enlarging the OWS movement while remaining under the banner of the “we are the 99%”. 

The Occupy Wall Street movement restructured the American political system years later because it changed the whole frame of reference about politics and has shifted to talk that focuses on issues of inequality and the 1%. It was a movement that energized a generation and changed the conversation to listening to the voices of the ordinary person. Occupy Wall Street created a turning point in how “the 99% are no longer sitting on the sidelines of history-we are making history”. This idea of the 99% having power and a ‘say’ is what made Occupy Wall Street so crucial in the way it affected and changed politics. We must look away from the failure of the movement in traditional measures and look instead at the message it sent and how it was delivered. The movement proved that it is possibly for citizens and activists alike to organize themselves under a cause and in turn have their voices heard. Before Occupy Wall Street politics was focused primarily on how to improve businesses and make the wealthy even more rich. However, now politicians must respect and represent the interests of the 99% when it comes to the structuring of the economy and politics in general. This has already been seen in how the movement helped with “introducing income inequality into the broader political discourse, for inspiring the fight for a $15 minimum wage, (…) and for creating a receptive audience for the Democratic presidential campaign of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.” The movement was able to drive the topic of inequality into political conversations and have it be a central focus of public and political debate. Thus, making it harder for Wall street financiers and the like to have a large impact or influence on the decisions of those working in politics post-Occupy. 


In conclusion, the overall success of Occupy Wall street did not come from traditional means, but rather through the idea and light it shed on the issue of inequality towards the 99%. The movement made it possible for the average person to stand up in defence of their rights. Occupy Wall Street was a part of a cultural transformation allowing new generations of activists to be able to build connections and make an impact together. It also reinforced the Marxist theory of change stemming from class conflict and struggle. Whether violent or not it is when the working-class stands up and revolts against the bourgeoisis or 1% that real change will take place. If revolution is the basis of change, then Occupy Wall Street was exactly that as those within the 99% were able to come together and instigate a worldwide Occupy movement to have their voices heard. The result was to give American politicians little choice but to take economic inequality and the 99% more seriously.


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16 August 2021
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