Is Occupy Wall Street The New Civil Rights Movement?
1 year ago
Some say yes, others say no!
The Occupy Wall Street movement began on September 17th in New York City. The movement quickly gained momentum with encampments springing up in over one thousand cities nationwide. Shortly thereafter it spread across the globe with occupies now flourishing in Sydney, London, Paris, and so forth. Inspired by the ‘Arab Spring’ revolutions that spread across the Middle East last year, Occupy protesters are denouncing economic injustice in the United States and elsewhere. Despite challenges – like winter weather and the destruction of most of the major encampments – the occupiers do not seem to have lost their momentum. In fact, it appears the number of participants is growing. With these new challenges, occupiers’ tactics are continually changing on a day-to-day basis. One tactic, however, that has not changed is the protesters’ commitment to acts of non-violent, civil disobedience. This has led many experts to compare and contrast occupy to that of the civil rights movement and other major social movements.
Activist, investigative journalist, and author of Nickel & Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich see both similarities and differences when comparing it to previous popular movements in the U.S.
“OWS is much more broad-based in terms of class than the anti-war and feminist movements were initially. In some ways it is, much like the Southern civil rights movement, a movement of the poor,” Ehrenreich stated in an email.
When asked about its particular strengths, Ehrenreich built on this idea of it being a movement for the poor. She wrote, “Its biggest strength is the near-universality of its concerns (the 99%.) Also, their refusal to get involved in politics-as-we-know-it is another strength.” She also does not believe it is just a fad.
Michael McCray, an attorney, civil rights expert, and author (his forthcoming book is ACORN 8: Memoirs of an ACORN Whistleblower) echoed a similar sentiment about occupy’s similarities to the civil rights movement.
In a phone interview, McCray stated, “They are both a people's movements. I actually think that occupy is a continuation of the civil rights movement.”
Unlike Ehrenreich, McCray believes that in order for occupy to succeed, it needs to enter the body politic. Referring to Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals as an important primer for social movements of this nature, McCray stated that occupy has already achieved the first goal in that book: to agitate and disrupt. In so doing, they have gotten the establishment’s attention. However, they have not moved beyond this first stage. If they do not move on to engage the body politic, McCray said, “it's going to wind up being more of a demonstration.” In his view, that means it will eventually lose its effectiveness. But he added, “the movement is still young.”