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Occupy's Missed Opportunity to Impact Election 2012

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Atisha Paulson for Huffington Post
Atisha Paulson for Huffington Post

When the police moved into Zuccotti Park in New York and Dewey Square in Boston last year tearing down tarps and tents many activists expressed optimism that they would still influence national elections 11 months away. Don Trementozzi, president of the Communications Workers Union in Boston, said at the time in an interview with WGBH Boston Public Radio. "In the next election, I think it is absolutely going to have an impact. This movement absolutely is going to have an impact."

How could it not, they asked. The existential nature of the Occupy movement, they argued, went way beyond tents pitched on the cold damp ground. Their message, "We are the 99 percent" was powerful and echoed loudly in a nation fed up with income inequality.

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But a year later the most widely echoed number in the blogosphere and beyond is not ninety-nine.

"Well I think that when you hear the percentage '47' you can't not think about what Occupy was discussing. Romney unintentionally echoed that message and I think now that is negating Occupy's distinction between the 1% and the 99%."

Cyrus Veeser is a professor of history at Bentley University specializing in social movements.

"The Occupy movement has completely disappeared from political discourse. For one, the Obama campaign, the message that they're sending out is that 'we're in a recovery' and that 'we reformed Wall Street' so the Occupy narrative doesn't fit in that frame."

Chris Faraone, a journalist for the Boston Phoenix, was embedded in the Occupy Movement and has written a book on the subject. Faraone says though the Green Party has adopted and still embraces the Occupy message, the Democrats have only narrowly focused on income inequality and the poor.

"This election has been about the economy superficially, but it hasn't really been about some of what I would believe and what a lot of Occupiers believe is some of the underlying problems of the economy: mass incarcerations, really baseline education measures, early child-care, re-entry and rehabilitation for prisoners. So they're (Romney and Obama) not really talking about poverty, they're certainly not talking about foreclosures"

The Presidential and US Senate candidates also did not reference the Occupiers themselves this election year. The Movement activists started off looking like every day Joes or Joannas: teachers, laid-off construction workers, students, even a cop or two. But the longer the tents stayed up the greater the media spotlight on what many perceived as Occupy's underbelly connected to its broad acceptance of everyone, including drug dealers, the chronically addicted and anarchists.2012-11-06-IMG_3400.jpg

So mainstream politicians made it a point to steer clear of this version of the Movement. In September on Occupy Wall Street's one year anniversary the Massachusetts Republican Party put out a web video to remind viewers of Elizabeth Warren's claim to have been responsible for the intellectual foundation of the movement.

Warren's words, many believe, were certainly taken out of context. I asked her recently if she would have phrased it differently. "I have been protesting Wall Street for years now, and I think it's important to do that. The people who have broken our economy have not been held accountable. That's what I would have said."

"Holding a sign for Elizabeth Warren is not holding an Occupy Boston sign," says Farone. "And this is something that I see that was glaring at the Democratic National Convention. There was one instance in particular, where there were a number of protesters - not that many but a couple of hundred - and it was a showdown at a busy intersection between them and police. And then some of the other people who got involved actually yelling at the protesters were people who were attending the Democratic National Convention. And a lot of those people were Union members, who in months prior were on the other side of that line."

Christine Morabito, the head of the Boston area Tea Party, often described as the conservative counterpart to the Occupy Movement, says the Tea Party, unlike Occupy, has influenced Election 2012. But given the current status of Tea Party standard bearers in this election (GOP Senate candidates in Indiana and Missouri), many see its influence as largely negative. But negative or positive the Tea Party had an impact.

And where exactly are the Occupiers these days? Some are carrying on low visibility fights against foreclosures in New York, transportation inequality in Boston, education reform in Detroit, and against the offshoring of jobs at the Bain-owned company Sensata Technologies in Freeport, Illinois. They are what is left of the Movement; working on numerous concerns out of the spotlight of television cameras.

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Sarah Francis works for Occupy Radio in Boston, an internet radio station housed in a downtown two-story walkup. She camped out at Dewey Square for two months and regrets that the Occupy Movement did not play a definable role in this year's elections.

My biggest regret is that we did not recognize that we needed a plan and that we needed leaders. We had been sort of fighting within an organization on how to make a difference without actually politically interacting. It means finding a way to keeping what we've created within Occupy alive but I think to continue to play sort of side politics when there are real politics that really have an effect on our daily lives is sad and childish and it's time for us to all grow up.

In that sense, perhaps the wrong question is being asked. Perhaps, it is less about the Occupy movement's impact on Election 2012 and more about how election 2012's affected the Occupy movement.2012-11-06-IMG_3172.jpg