Occupy Wall Street reunites five years later: ‘It never ended for most of us’

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Activists of the movement, splintered and diminished since it prompted worldwide protests against inequality, reunited and reflected on Black Lives Matter, Bernie Sanders and the legacy of Occupy

Five years after the tents sprouted, the protesters faced pepper spray and a call went out against inequality, the mood in Zuccotti Park on Saturday evening felt more like a family reunion than a political rally. Around 100 former Occupy Wall Street protesters gathered in downtown Manhattan to reminisce on the fifth anniversary of their movement, which spurred international protests if not decisive action to counter the growing divide between rich and poor.

Organizers hugged each other and introduced new partners and babies at the park where theyd spent months, sleeping in tents, fighting with police and challenging Wall Street bankers with their call: We are the 99%.

But five years later, Occupy is splintered and largely absent from the political arena, although the ideas of the movement anti-Wall Street policies and opposition to corporate influence on politics have ascended to become central issues of the 2016 presidential campaign.

I remember in this park five years ago having arguments with people and debates: Should we run Occupy candidates for office? And now, five years later, maybe we dont have any Occupy candidates, but every candidate wants you to think that they are the Occupy candidate, said Caleb Maupin, 28, who was working for an insurance company during the Occupy heyday and is now a journalist for RT, the television network funded by the Russian government.

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Occupy Wall Street activists perform in Zuccotti Park. Photograph: Mary Altaffer/AP

Elizabeth Warren would not have a career if millions of people did not know that we were right, Maupin told a crowd, adding that Bernie Sanders campaign was like a giant Occupy Wall Street rally.

Even listen to the rhetoric of Donald Trump, this mans a Wall Street guy, Maupin said. Yet in his speeches, he would like his supporters to believe that he is a representative of the 99% and the common man and the 1%.

Even Hillary Clinton, he continued, shes the incarnation of the political establishment, and yet when she speaks, she presents herself as if she is the voice of the 99%.

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Occupy Wall Street activists. Photograph: Mary Altaffer/AP

Cliches of the Occupy movement have survived, including painted masks for sale and costumes such as a gas mask and black garb painted with Fossil Fools. A woman dressed in a pink wore a pigs mask and held a sign saying: Tax the Poor through the floor.

She then pretended to hit a woman dressed in the stars and stripes, whose own poster declared: Foil the corporate person hooded caper. Teach-ins were held to discuss the Trans-Pacific Partnership and sad clowns performed in a theater performance surrounded by gravestones for justice, democracy and truth. An older woman regularly asked for $1 to buy pizza for the crowd.

Although many in the audience were former Bernie Sanders supporters at least one wore a Bernie 2016 T-shirt several told the Guardian they would now vote for Hillary Clinton.

Ill vote for Hillary because shes the lesser of two evils, said Frank Wagner, a 75-year-old Vietnam veteran from New Jersey, carrying a poster that read: Trump is an economic terrorist.

I hope whoever gets elected will mobilize the left, said Sumumba Sobukwe, who said he would back a third-party candidate such as Jill Stein or Gary Johnson.

Many acknowledged that Occupys influence had diminished but said it had been a turning point in their own lives. Sobukwe said since his experience with Occupy, he had been active in Black Lives Matter, the $15 minimum wage movement and the Occupy the Pipeline protests.

Michael Pellagatti, a 29-year-old from Jersey City, carried a sign saying: Five years ago you spat in my face, saying get a job. Today: I turned Occupy Wall Street into a job! Hes a licensed New York tour guide, offering Occupy Wall Street tours to colleges.

Occupy as a whole has become Balkanized, he said. One of the shortcomings of Occupy was that we couldnt stay together as a cohesive unit.

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An Occupy Wall Street activist takes part on the fifth anniversary of the original protest. Photograph: Mary Altaffer/AP

But he thinks Occupy helped create a protest environment that has allowed other political movements, such as the nebulous groups of Black Lives Matter, to flourish. And some remnants of the original protest continue to hover in the precincts of the financial district.

Im still occupying, Harrison Tesoura Schultz told the crowd. It never ended for most of us. Tesoura Schultz remains a local activist, and has since formed 420 Fight Club, a protest group that advocates for legal marijuana and teaches martial arts outside the Federal Reserve building in New York every Friday night.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/sep/18/occupy-wall-street-reunites-five-years-later-it-never-ended-for-most-of-us