Two years after the Occupy Wall Street movement shifted the conversation on economic inequality, we look at its origins in New York City’s Zuccotti Park and its continued legacy in a number of different groups active today. We speak with Nicole Carty, actions coordinator with The Other 98 Percent, and a facilitator of general assemblies and spokescouncil meetings during Occupy, where she was a member of the Occupy People of Color Caucus. Also joining us is Nathan Schneider, editor of the website Waging Nonviolence, and a longtime chronicler of the Occupy movement for Harper’s Magazine, The Nation, The New York Times, and The Catholic Worker. Scheider’s new book, "Thank You Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse," chronicles Occupy’s first year.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
Juan González: We turn now to look at the Occupy Wall Street movement and its legacy on its second anniversary. On September 17, 2011, thousands of people marched on the financial district, then formed an encampment in Zuccotti Park, launching a movement that shifted the conversation on economic inequality. Here in New York activists marked the occasion Tuesday with a march to the New York Stock Exchange and the United Nations highlighting a poll for taxing Wall Street transactions and directing the funds to public causes.
Amy Goodman: For more, we are joined by two guests. Nicole Carty is an actions coordinator with The Other 98%. During Occupy Wall Street she was a facilitator at general assemblies and spokes counsel meetings and she was a member of the Occupy People of Color Caucus. Nathan Schneider is also with us, editor of the website “Waging Nonviolence,” author of the new book "Thank You Anarchy: Notes From the Occupy Apocalypse." We welcome you both to Democracy Now!. Why “Occupy Apocalypse,” Nathan?
Nathan Schneider: That’s a great question. It’s a question I get a lot. The word in Greek meant unveiling, right? It described a moment in which something is revealed that changes our perception of everything and I think pretty accurately describes what happened with Occupy Wall Street, both for us a society in revealing the depth of income inequality, of the corruption of the political system and also of the power of the militarized police state; but also for so many individuals who took part across the country. I have been privileged to meet so many people and to watch them as their lives were changed by this movement, as they became activated and haven’t been able to go back to the way their lives were before.
Juan González: Nathan, you write in the beginning of the book, you say for nearly two months in the fall of 2011 a square block of granite and honey locust trees in New York’s Financial District, right between Wall Street and the World Trade Center, became a canvas for the image of another world. Two years later how has that canvas been preserved and what are some of the activities that the Occupiers are now involved with?
Nathan Schneider: Well, to talk about that canvas itself, it is interesting to see the ways in which the movement is memorialized kind of informally in the Financial District. There is still a wall of barricades around the Charging Bull statue. There are still regularly barricades in Zuccotti Park. There are still barricades around Chase Manhattan Plaza which was the original planned sort of decoy site for the Occupation. It is amazing how the security state is still living in fear of this movement. But at the same activists who were involved in it, many of them are spread out across the country in all kinds of networks that have formed through the course of this movement, putting their bodies in the way of the Keystone Pipeline, calling attention to issues like a financial transaction tax, bringing housing activists together around the country to create a stronger movement. There are a number of campaigns that have been profoundly strengthened by networks formed in the Occupy Movement.
Amy Goodman: Nicole Carty, where were you two years ago?
Nicole Carty: Two years ago I was working for the Sundance Channel doing content management. I was just one of many precariate who didn’t really have a solid job and I came in to Occupy because it was the first time I ever had seen people my own age, or anyone for that matter, talking about the deep inequality within this country. It was just kind of this secret and I feel like part of the legacy is that that so unveiled at this point. It is not even questioned.
Amy Goodman: So talk about what it was really like, what day did you go to Occupy and describe the community there.
Nicole Carty: I was stalking Occupy on Live Stream for a full week. I was glued to it before I went down there and the first day that I stepped down there was October 1 which, I don’t know if you remember, but that was the Brooklyn Bridge day and so me and my friend were down there chanting and having a great time. We had done activism in the past and this was old hat to us, but we did not expect what was going to happen on the bridge that day and after everyone went….
Amy Goodman: Can you explain what happened?
Nicole Carty: Let me go back, people just stormed the bridge as opposed to just taking the pedestrian route over the bridge and about 400 people, hundreds of people, got arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge October 1, 2011, and we were kind of just witnessing the police state and witnessing them slowly taking people from bridge, putting them in custody and it was really transformative and I couldn’t shake it. I had to go back every day since then and I don’t think I ever really left to be entirely honest.
Juan González: Nathan, you were involved actually from before the start of the event. Can you talk about those early days before the actual encampment?
Nathan Schneider: Yeah, I was just reminded of it by watching myself briefly being depicted on the Newsroom on the HBO show as they were re-enacting those meetings; but I showed up at the third planning meeting before the occupation began and announced myself as a journalist and a debate ensued about whether I could stay. I mean, everything was being worked out from scratch.
Amy Goodman: And this was where in town?
Nathan Schneider: This was in Tompkins Square Park in New York City, yeah. And it was an amazing thing to come across because there were all these, you know, pockets of activists, many of them didn’t know each other. They were united by this kind of odd call that Adbusters had made, but they were committed to making it their own.
Amy Goodman: Explain the Adbusters call.
Nathan Schneider: The Adbusters call in the summer of 2011 was to occupy Wall Street and there was a picture of a ballerina on top of that charging bull statue and then it asks the question, “What is our one demand?” at the top. Over the course of these meetings, that call, that idea of bringing people to Wall Street shifted. These activists decided that they were more interested in was building a movement. They weren’t ready to make one demand. They weren’t powerful enough. What they needed to do was empower people around the country, in communities in every city, in every neighborhood, to build their own occupations, to build their own assemblies and to build power so that they could make demands and that they could change the world.
Juan González: Of course, although there were many demands, the one that entered the American lexicon was the 99% and clearly President Obama then seized on that in his campaign. We have a mayoral candidate right now in New York City, Bill de Blasio, who has seized on the income inequality issue and is now poised perhaps to become the next New York City Mayor. What has happened again to the movement since then, because obviously once the groups were busted up by the police in the various cities, all kinds of ideas of how to keep the movement going. I am interested in what has been the responses of various activists of how to keep the movement going.
Nicole Carty: The movement is a network at this point and that is what is most important is that we met each other. You have seen us crop back up with Occupy Sandy just last year. The people still know each other, helping people.
Amy Goodman: With Hurricane Sandy.
Nicole Carty: Right, exactly, recovery, relief; but a political undercurrent to all of that as well. I think that as long as those people still know each other, the movement always exists in its networks, in its connections. It’s not latent, you know. People are still active, still doing their own work and organizing and they are bring the analysis from Occupy to it and I think it really is the first moment, the first kind of instance we see of intersectional organizing that is a new kind of organizing. We created a space for people to bring all of their issues and see how they are tied rather than leading with just one issue or one demand.
Amy Goodman: I am going to read from today’s New York Times report on the latest census data. “Manhattan retained the dubious distinction of having the biggest income gap of any big country in the world, any big county in the country. The mean income of the lowest fifth was $9,635 compared with $389,007 for the top fifth and $799,969 for the top 5%. More than an eighty-fold difference between bottom and top.” Nicole, you are now with a group called “The Other 98%.” What is your response to this.
Nicole Carty: The beautiful thing about this legacy post Occupy is that now people see the inequality. It was always there and The 98% kind of hits on the same topics as Occupy, economic inequality, intersectionality, environmental justice and, you know, racial justice, all of those same points that were really articulated through Occupy are also worked on by The 98% and so I think what is amazing about that is that was all true in 2011, but now people have a lens through which to view it and see, oh, this is unequal, this is a systemic issue.
Amy Goodman: You wrote a piece in addition to your book, “Thank You Anarchy,” Nathan, called “Breaking Up With Occupy.” Where do you go from here?
Nathan Schneider: Well, I think as I have been talking with Occupiers spread out around the country, I have noted they are coming to terms with a moment that happened, something really important, really transformative, something that shifted the rhetorical landscape of our country for sure; but I think there is still a need to push that further and if we look at the history of movements, they never just happen in a few months. They happen over the course of years and I think there is a craving among people who were awakened by that moment of the occupations to step it up to a different level to be able to enact the kind of pressure to make their dreams something more like reality.
Amy Goodman: We have to leave it there. Nathan Schneider, your new book, “Thank You Anarchy: Notes From the Occupy Apocalypse” and thank you so much Nicole Carty who is now with The Other 98% and a facilitator in Occupy Wall Street.