NEW YORK -- In Zuccotti Park, the birthplace of the Occupy Wall Street movement, hundreds of people gathered today to celebrate the movement's one-year anniversary -- and try to recapture some of its lost energy. Many of the sights and sounds were familiar from other Occupy protests: The protesters shouted familiar slogans and wore the familiar array of Occupy stickers and buttons. Earlier today, their attempt to block access to the New York Stock Exchange ended with more than 146 arrests, a familiar result for a group of activists who have been known to confront police -- and accuse them of brutal and illegal acts of repression.
One of the protestors, Sergio Castillo, a 26-year-old actor, rested his forearms against the police barricades lining Zuccotti Park and said he'd been participating in Occupy protests since the movement started last fall. "The only way we can see profound change in our society and our world is through grassroots democracy and the participation of everyday people," he said.
Even in its early days, many aspects of the movement would have been recognizable to anyone who had been to an anti-globalization protest in the late 90s, or an anti-war gathering a generation before. But by the time the movement reached its peak in early October, the scene was unusual enough to make front-page headlines. The activists filled the park with dozens of tents, a "people's library" with thousands of books, a kitchen that served hundreds of hot meals each day, a number of information booths, a bicycle-powered generator, a silk screen, a meditation center. No, the concept of the protest village did not begin in Zuccotti, but how many people who followed the Occupy news remember the heyday of the People's Park in Berkeley in the late 1960s?
On Oct. 2 of last year, several weeks into the protest, The New York Times published four articles on the movement, one by star columnist Nicholas Kristof. Today, they published a blog by Colin Moynihan, their go-to guy for fringe anarchist events.
"The repertory of actions and styles which were electrifying a year ago are no longer news," said Todd Gitlin, a former leader of Students for a Democratic Society and a professor of journalism at Columbia University. "If you establish yourself once as a rabble of encampment inhabitants and you can't exceed the numbers that you delivered last year, then essentially as a news story, by conventional lights, you don't exist."
Will the Occupy activists ever be able to regain the widespread attention they commanded a little less than a year ago, let alone bring about some of the changes that they'd love to see? Gitlin, for one, suggested that they should take a cue from the anti-war protesters of the '70s, whom he credited with "forestalling the possibility of yet more destructive iterations of the war" (a controversial point that many would dispute).
"By the seventies," he said, "the mass student movement was over and a lot of the energies were devoted to electoral politics and lobbying in Washington." Occupiers would benefit from being more "strategic," too, he said. But for many of the Occupy die-hards, that would mean working within a system which they see as the greatest source of economic misery.
Asked if he planned to vote in the upcoming election, Castillo, the protestor, said he'd given up on "party politics."
"I have abandoned hope for it," he said. And yet his hope for the Occupy movement marches on.
For more on the decline of the Occupy movement, read this story from Huffington magazine.