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  • Protesters aligned with the Occupy Wall Street movement march in Washington, DC, in October 2011.

    Protesters aligned with the Occupy Wall Street movement march in Washington, DC, in October 2011. | Photo: Reuters

Published 16 September 2016
A veteran Occupy Wall Street activist talks to teleSUR about the impact the 2011 movement had on social protest in the U.S.

Five years on, the spirit of Occupy Wall Street lives—not in Zuccotti Park, not in one group or another, but in its analysis of class and capitalism that has burrowed its way into movements of all shapes and sizes.

What's Next After Sanders? Seeds of Political Movement Building

Rather than seeing Occupy as an “umbrella of all things, activists understand that solidarity is a verb,” veteran occupier Winnie Wong told teleSUR.

Wong, who had camped out from day one to day zero, spoke from a Working Families Party gala featuring Bernie Sanders after flying out from Dakota Access Pipeline protests that morning.

She said that she had driven to the protest with two friends who were also core Occupy organizers, but she wouldn’t draw a direct link between the two.

“You never want to stand in front of a movement that’s not yours,” she said, and while Dakota protesters shared similar tactics to Occupy—the collective kitchen, the free store, the teach-in workshops—they come from an even longer history of traditional organizing.

Other movements born after Occupy made “99 percent” a part of U.S. vernacular—Black Lives Matter, the Fight for 15, the Bernie Sanders campaign—all have their own forms of organizing, but each is infused with the “anarchist tradition of Occupy Wall Street,” said Wong, through each of its dispersed alums.

“You can’t be afraid (and) flinch from the thing that you are,” said Wong, adding that while occupiers came from a wide spectrum of ideologies, the anarchist aspect of their horizontal organizing was one aspect that is alive and thriving five years later.

“Protests will never again be centralized.”

Taking the Measure of the Bern Effect

Wong was a co-founder of People for Bernie, created with a handful of friends she made at Occupy. While she said she would have never imagined herself working within electoral politics—“direct action is not a tactic embraced by the democractic party,” she said—she saw parallels with Occupy, where “people who came through for a day are just as important as people who stayed there.”

The legacy and wins of that 2011 moment should not be at the center of debate, because Occupy was a movement.

Occupy commemorations and celebrations have by now tapered off, with alums busy with occupations around the world, but Wong said that she’ll stroll through Zuccotti Park anyway to see if anything spontaneous sprouts up.

“Who doesn’t love a mic check, right?”

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