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Assessing the Occupation

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One year ago, a small group of activists sat down in an out-of-the-way little park in downtown Manhattan. And then they refused to leave. By the time they were forcibly evicted from Zuccotti Park one month and 29 days later, the Occupy Wall Street movement had changed the national conversation and spawned dozens of affiliated groups around the country. On September 17, an unknown number of activists will converge on downtown Manhattan to mark the one-year anniversary of the movement.

So where have they been over the last year? What have they been doing? What are their plans for the future? In this month's issue of Huffington, Saki Knafo answers those questions and many more, as he takes us inside what's left of the movement. Even before Occupy was unmoored from its physical home base, writes Saki, it had already split into two very different factions: the college-educated "middle class idealists," and the "inveterate social outcasts." While in the park the two groups formed a mutually beneficial though uneasy coexistence, one they saw as "a testament to the movement's unifying power and as an essential attribute of an ideal society." But once they were evicted from Zuccotti Park, the two groups went their separate ways and now "barely communicate with each other."

Saki visits both sides of the movement, and introduces us to those still carrying the flame. At its peak, estimates Professor Todd Gitlin, a former SDS leader, the movement had around 50,000 followers, and had the attention of hundreds of thousands more. But many of those once excited by Occupy's potential are now, as Gitlin says, "politically unemployed."

To be sure, there are plenty of affiliated groups around the country tackling important issues. In Minneapolis and other cities, for instance, groups are "occupying" foreclosed homes and fighting back -- sometimes successfully -- against the banks. In Vermont, Ben Cohen, of Ben & Jerry's, is pushing an amendment to ban "money in politics." In Brooklyn, activists are "liberating" abandoned properties.

But as the one-year anniversary approaches, can the spirit that once had the attention of the entire nation be rekindled? Saki finds members of the college-educated faction in a midtown Manhattan office, laying plans for what they say are "big things." On the other side, he spends a few nights with the group of die-hards still sleeping on a sidewalk outside Trinity Church in lower Manhattan.

"The two classes of Occupy movement, meanwhile, have come to resemble two much larger segments of American society," writes Saki. "The people on the street are increasingly like street people everywhere. And the people in the offices are increasingly like traditional left-wing activists."

But it was only a year ago that a small, determined collection of idealists changed the focus of the national discourse from austerity to inequality and introduced terms like 99 percent into the vocabulary. They may not have had much of a physical presence at the recent conventions, but their principles were there.

In Zuccotti Park, "we were trying to build a different kind of culture," says Max Bean, a tutor who spent much time there a year ago. "It was a dysfunctional community, it was a f***ing mess, but I think that was a worthwhile and interesting goal."

This piece appears in Issue 14 of our FREE new weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, in the iTunes App store.

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