Last month saw the one year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street Movement. Despite the New York Police Department closing off the financial district, the one year anniversary protest attracted just a few hundred people, far less than the thousands involved at the movements height. Marni Halasa, a protester interviewed by the Associated Press during the demonstration said “One year ago it was a movement about direct action, and thousands and thousands of people on the street, and I think now what you have is you have many working groups that do really good community activism, so I think in that sense the focus has changed.”
In its first year the movement brought about significant change. Following a coordinated nation-wide series of actions against ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), a number of their corporate sponsors and legislators dropped their support. After being hounded by protesters everywhere he went in New York City, Governor Andrew Cuomo, who had campaigned on the promise that he would not enact a “millionaire’s tax,” enacted a millionaires tax. Occupy Wall Street has influenced the minds of many. According to a Pew Research Poll, about two-thirds of Americans now believe there are “strong conflicts” between rich and poor in the United States, compared to just half in 2009.
The “really good community activism” that Halasa mentions is still ongoing, though we hear less about that this side of the world. Among those actions are ‘Occupy our Homes’ which involves protesters delaying home foreclosures by camping out on the foreclosed property, as well as rehousing the homeless. Occupy Providence struck a deal with the city to open a homeless shelter during the winter that would also provide social services, and many local Occupy groups across the US have set up community gardens; while not in itself a radical act, it is significant in a country where many people in poor urban areas lack even a supermarket in their neighbourhood.
Six hundred km north of Wall Street, Quebec’s student movement has had huge success. The new provincial government, Parti Quèbècois has repealed the previous government’s special bill that criminalized student demonstrations and abolished the tuition increase that universities had already begun charging (many students have received a rebate). They also eliminated a highly regressive two hundred dollar per person health tax and have moved to shut down a controversial nuclear power plant. It’s doubtful that the centre-left party would have enacted these progressive reforms if not for the movement on the streets.
This month will mark the anniversary of the Occupy movement reaching New Zealand, on October 15th last year protesters set up camp in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. The movement has a legacy here too; protests against the National governments welfare reforms have coalesced under the banner of ‘Occupy WINZ’ (Facebook group: http://on.fb.me/UaQ5aJ). On September 18th members of Auckland Action Against Poverty did just that, occupying the offices of the Ministry of Social Development. AAAP spokesperson Sarah Thompson was quoted as saying “We believe that the Government’s on-going attacks on beneficiaries are nothing less than a brutal assault on the wellbeing of hundreds of thousands of children -and adults- who are dependent on the state for survival”.
As we go to press, preparations are being made for a national day of action against the reforms that will see pickets take place across the country. In this issue we carry an article examining how the reforms will impoverish and further stigmatise those affected by mental illness. If you haven’t already seen it, I would recommend reading ‘Defending the Domestic Purposes Benefit’ in our April 2012 issue (available online at http://bit.ly/Ub8dBf).