Occupy Wall Street Activists Suing Ex-Member Over Twitter Account

Occupy Wall Street Activists Mark 2 Year Anniversary Of Movement
Occupy Wall Street protesters wearing masks made out of enlarged dollar bills act in a short skit in Times Square in New York City on Sept. 17, 2013
Andrew Burton—Getty Images

Not only is Occupy locked out of the “1%,” they now can’t even get on Twitter

Five Ways Occupy Wall Street Is Still Fighting

By Rebecca Nathanson |
September 17, 2014

On September 17th, 2011, activists gathered in downtown Manhattan with the stated goal of occupying Wall Street. They ended up in Zuccotti Park, where they built an encampment and remained until the NYPD surprised them with a violent eviction on November 15th. By then, the movement had developed a web of working groups and spread to cities around the country. Its “99 percent vs. 1 percent” critique of inequality articulated what many were experiencing in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, but critics were skeptical of a demand-less movement and predicted its demise as police departments systematically destroyed encampments across America.

Since the disappearance of the occupations, though, a diverse group of new campaigns have aimed to translate the skills and networks developed during the initial two-month run of Occupy Wall Street (OWS) into tangible change. Three years after that first night at Zuccotti Park, many of these groups still remain. Here are five campaigns that OWS-inspired groups have continued to fight for since the movement’s presumed conclusion:

Occupy Homes

Home foreclosures were one of the most visible aspects of the financial crash, bringing the reality of corporate greed into living rooms across the country. In October 2011, an Occupy Minneapolis protester facing foreclosure suggested expanding the occupation into her home to prevent eviction. “That really transformed what OWS could do because it brought politicization into neighborhoods and not just into traditional protest spaces,” says Cat Salonek, an Occupy Minneapolis participant who helped organize Occupy Homes Minnesota, which is part of a national network currently focused on organizing renters while also pursuing policy changes and targeting Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Salonek credits OWS with creating the necessary conditions “If OWS were a dandelion that the state crushed, a lot of seeds scattered and are now taking root,” she says. “We’re one of the organizations with really deep, strong roots to be able to build more power for the 99 percent.”

Student Debt Reform

Higher education has seen better days: Total national student debt topping $1 trillion. An average student debt load of $29,000 per graduate. Increasing costs. Decreasing public funding. OWS student debt organizing began with a working group that has since turned into Strike Debt, which is creating a collective to help debtors self-organize. Countless efforts by student activists to halt tuition hikes and combat undemocratic administrations also demonstrate the vitality of the struggle for accessible education for all. A public letter sent to NYU’s president from a student who recently dropped out because of insufficient financial aid illustrates how the desire for education has become synonymous with accepting a lifetime of debt. Its more than 43,000 views illustrate how many others share that reality.

Occupy Sandy

In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy caused massive damage to neighborhoods around New York City. By the morning after the storm, former Occupiers were coming together to provide mutual aid to impacted communities, quickly setting up kitchens and distributing goods and resources where they were most needed. After the first month of providing immediate relief, Occupy Sandy began to develop long-term projects that are still evolving, including a worker-owned cooperative in the Rockaways and a participatory documentary project to tell the stories of those affected. “We all have knowledge, skills, and resources,” explains organizer Tammy Shapiro. “Mutual aid is about using our skills, knowledge, and resources to benefit ourselves and others, as opposed to the idea that there are givers and receivers.”

Alternative Labor

New York City fast food workers staged the largest strike in their industry’s history on November 29th, 2012. Paired with increasingly visible organizing by Walmart workers, this signaled a new stage in the alternative labor, or alt-labor, movement that organizes workers outside of traditional unions. Fast food workers around the country, organizing through the Service Employees International Union’s Fight for 15 campaign, have been protesting for a $15 minimum wage and the right to form a union since that historic strike. Their campaign inspired 15 Now, an effort to raise Seattle’s minimum wage to $15 that drew heavily on OWS’s rhetoric and now has 20 chapters nationwide.

Prison Reform

Cecily McMillan, a 25-year-old graduate student and organizer, was leaving Zuccotti Park on March 17th, 2012, when she was arrested and charged with assaulting a police officer. This spring, a jury declared her guilty, despite evidence showing that she had been sexually assaulted by the officer and thrown her elbow back in self-defense. She spent 58 days at New York City’s Rikers Island jail and emerged in July with a list of demands crafted by herself and other female inmates. She has since used her media attention to raise awareness of the structural problems facing poor communities that lead to mass incarceration. “People are denied jobs, denied resources, essentially left to their own devices to live and take care of their own,” she argues. “And when they do, you put them in jail? That, to me, is a political prisoner.”

Occupy Wall Street’s Student Debt Solution

Six years ago this week, storied Wall Street investment bank Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy as part of the financial crash that led to the worst recession since the Great Depression. Out of that crisis came Occupy Wall Street, a grass-roots protest movement whose greatest claim to fame was a two-month occupation of New York City’s Zuccotti Park that began on September 17, 2011. Since then, OWS hasn’t exactly commanded headlines, but it has now made news again — although this time it’s not the big banks in the activist group’s crosshairs, it’s for-profit schools.

Related: Six Years After Lehman’s Bankruptcy, Wall Street Is as Reckless as Ever

To coincide with the three year anniversary of the Zuccotti Park protests, Occupy announced two days ago that it had eliminated almost $4 million in private student loan debt for nearly 3,000 students through a program called Rolling Jubilee, part of an Occupy offshoot called “Strike Debt.” All of the vanquished loans were held by students who attended Everest College, which Occupy calls “a predatory for-profit institution.”

Everest is part of a chain of for-profit schools run by Corinthian Colleges, or CCI. CCI made news itself this year for getting into trouble with the Department of Education — enough trouble that the DOE cut off the federal financial aid payments Corinthian relied on to stay in business. This forced the company to try and sell 85 of its campuses and shutter the rest. Corinthian was being investigated by the DOE over whether it provided students with good educational value for the money. Specifically, the department had requested detailed information about CCI students — relating to job placements and grade changes, for example — and CCI didn’t respond, prompting the financial aid cut-off.

Related: Pros and Cons of Paying Off Your Student Loans Early 

Occupy was able to accomplish its debt elimination by collecting donations and using the money raised to buy up the “Unpaid Tuition Receivables” for pennies on the dollar — less than three cents on the dollar, to be precise, or about $107,000 in all. The Occupy group then simply erased the debts, or as Occupy phrased it, “abolished” it. As for why they did it, the group says: “We bought debt from this school in order to focus public attention on the grim consequences of allowing higher education to be used as a vehicle for private profit. The students at this college were conned … Our long term goal is to end student debt, along with other forms of predatory lending.”

For-profit schools have been under scrutiny for a while now. A report released last year by The Institute for College Access Success found that more than 600,000 federal student loan recipients who began repaying their loans in 2010 were in default by 2012. According to the report, 46 percent of these defaulters attended for-profit institutions like the kind run by CCI, even though for-profit schools enroll just 13 percent of students nationally.

There’s about $1.3 trillion in outstanding student loan debt, according to Federal Reserve data. Clearly, $3.9 million of abolished debt is less than a drop in a bucket. But while the financial system was never in any real danger of being taken down by Occupy Wall Street, by helping students out of bad financial situations the group has found a way to keep fighting its fight. 

Top Reads from The Fiscal Times:

Here’s Who To Thank For Our National Obsession With Inequality

Three years ago this week, Zuccotti Park in downtown Manhattan went from being a place bored office workers went for a cigarette break to the center of Occupy Wall Street.

Today the protesters are long gone, and the public disgust with the financial system that the movement inspired and embodied has faded. But Occupy’s effects live on, in the way we talk and think about the American economy, and in the continued work of a core group of activists.

Occupy gained prominence and a following by focusing its efforts on concrete space, but its most obvious legacies are largely ambient and linguistic: Today, 45 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with their ability to get ahead by working hard. In 2008, just 31 percent felt the same way. The ubiquity of the phrase “99 percent” spiked with Occupy’s protests. And it’s hard to argue that the enduring, derogatory use of “the 1 percent” is not the group’s doing.

Introducing Americans to a dramatically different way to talk about inequality is a big achievement. And while much of the change over the past six years in how Americans view the rewards of work is due to the recession (hello, falling household incomes), giving that shift a way to express itself is impressive.

Where you won’t find Occupy’s legacy is in American attitudes toward banks. Despite its initial aim, Occupy did not spark continued, mass disgust with the financial industry among the U.S. public. A Gallup poll shows that American’s now have net positive view of banks:

banking

Occupy Wall Street may have had a short-term effect: From mid-2011 to mid-2012, Americans’ already negative view of banks got marginally worse. The drop was not sustained, and its size was very minor compared to the drop caused by the global financial crisis.

How American’s feel about banks isn’t really even the best way to judge Occupy. Its goals were always both bigger (changing the dialogue about the American economy) and smaller (specific policy proposals and concentrated activism) than just getting people upset at one industry. Occupy could be the rhetoric of the 99 percent and the 1 percent (or 0.1 percent), and it could be Occupy the SEC with a scalpel-sharp 325-page, 301-footnote comment letter on the Volcker Rule.

The wonkier legacy of Occupy can be seen in things like a Senate hearing Wednesday afternoon called “Who is the economy working for? The impact of rising inequality on the American economy.” Or the determined, complex work of Strike the Debt, which just bought and canceled $3.9 million in debt from students of a for-profit college. Since 2012, it has wiped out $15 million in medical debt.

Occupy’s legacy being about something other than the banks may be for better. Popular outrage against the financial system — as cathartic and necessary as it was — may have outlived its use a vehicle for change. Credit to Occupy Wall Street for building more durable forms of activism at the height of its popularity. Occupy’s real but limited success shows just how hard a fight they picked.

10 Iconic Photos Of Occupy Wall Street, 3 Years Later

Wednesday marks the third anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

On September 17, 2011, demonstrators descended on lower Manhattan to protest the influence of corporate money in politics, income inequality and unfettered capitalism. The movement was quickly met with metal barricades and resistance from police.

Here’s a look back at what Occupy looked like in New York City, from September to November 2011.

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Activists Plan To ‘Flood Wall Street’ With Sit-in On Sept 22nd

A Day After Historic Climate March, Activists to Gather to Confront Corporate, Economic Institutions Contributing to Climate Change

As world leaders meet for a historic UN Climate Summit on September 22nd, people from across the globe — dressed in blue — will hold a mass sit-in to confront “the corporate and economic institutions” that they believe are causing the climate crisis. It comes a day after the People’s Climate March, slated to be the largest climate change-related march in history.

Flood Wall Street

WHO: Thousands of climate activists including, author-activists Naomi Klein, Chris Hedges, and Rebecca Solnit.

WHAT: Flood Wall Street, demonstration and mass sit-in. Thousands of people are expected to converge in Battery Park for a demonstration beginning at 9 a.m., featuring speeches by author-activists Naomi Klein, Chris Hedges and Rebecca Solnit. Beginning at around noon, participants will march to the heart of the Financial District and conduct a mass sit-in, risking arrest.

WHEN:  Monday, September 22, 2014:

9:00 a.m. – Gathering at Battery Park for breakfast and music from the Rude Mechanical Orchestra

9:30 a.m. – Speakers including frontline community leaders of the Climate Justice Alliance, Naomi Klein, Rebecca Solnit and Chris Hedges

11:30 a.m. – March begins

12:00 p.m. – Flood Wall Street and mass sit-in near New York Stock Exchange

WHERE:  Battery Park, NY

VISUALS:

  • Flood Wall Street participants will all be wearing blue. There will be marching bands, large puppets, a 300-foot Flood Wall Street banner and other large-scale art pieces throughout the demonstration. Hundreds will be risking arrest at the mass sit-in.
  • Viral-ready images are available through the Flood Wall Street Tumblr and Instagram pages. They are being shared on the hashtag #FloodWallStreet.

Flood Wall Street: A response to non-violent direct action

“Flood Wall Street” is a response to a call for non-violent direct action made by the Climate Justice Alliance, a coalition of people of color and working-class organizations. “Join us as we meet the scale and urgency of the crisis,” says the call, “by standing in solidarity with all frontlines of resistance and resilience around the world, and taking non-violent direct action against the corporations driving the extractive economy.” Organizers include Occupy Wall Street veterans, student divestment activists, housing activists, artists and more.

“Runaway climate change and extreme weather events, such as the extreme flooding that we saw here in New York City with Hurricane Sandy, are fueled by the fossil fuel industry,” says Michael Premo, an organizer of the action who was also a driving force in the Occupy Sandy recovery effort. “We are flooding Wall Street because we know that there’s no greater cause of runaway climate change than an economic system that puts profit before people — and before the planet.”

Flood Wall Street: An opportunity to call for an end to the abusive economic systems

The action represents a significant escalation from the People’s Climate March, which is not expected to include civil disobedience. “As so many people come to New York to express their concern about climate change, this sit-in is an opportunity to call for an end to the abusive economic systems that enable corporate polluters,” says Sandy Nurse, an environmental activist based in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. “It’s time to stop funding fossil fuels and to hold the institutions fueling this crisis accountable.”

The Flood Wall Street action is also meant to highlight the leadership of people most impacted by climate change — indigenous peoples, communities of color and low-income neighborhoods. “Communities that are first and most impacted by storms, floods and droughts are also on the frontlines of fighting the dig, burn, dump economy causing climate change,” said Michael Leon Guerrero of the Climate Justice Alliance. “We are flooding Wall Street to stop its financing of planetary destruction, and make way for living economies that benefit people and planet.”

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Occupy Wall Street Just Made $4 Million of Student Loan Debt Disappear

All the students whose debts were abolished went to the for-profit Everest College

An Occupy Wall Street campaign says it has abolished almost $4 million in student loan debts, in a Tuesday announcement marking the third anniversary of the Occupy protests that brought renewed attention to the issue of income inequality.

The Rolling Jubilee Fund, an initiative of the Occupy movement, has been accepting donations and buying up student loan debt for pennies on the dollar from debt collectors, and then forgiving the loans altogether. The group has spent about $107,000 to purchase $3.9 million in debt, organizers said.

The debts were held by students who attended Everest College, a for-profit institution part of the Corinthian Colleges network. The fund called Everest College a “predatory” institution that is helping fuel the $1.2 trillion in total student loan debt in the United States.

“We chose Everest because it is the most blatant con job on the higher ed landscape,” the organizers said. “It’s time for all student debtors to get relief from their crushing burden.”

The debt belonged to 2,761 people who had taken at loans at Everest College. The group is only able to purchase private student debt, not the majority of outstanding U.S. student debt that’s backed by the federal government. Corinthian Colleges told CNN it stands by the “high-quality” education it provides and denied charges of predatory lending.

Three Years Later, What Has Come of Occupy Wall Street?

This week marks the third anniversary of protesters descending on Wall Street to protest the havoc wrought by the 2008 Financial Meltdown, which had hit all Americans hard, except for the ones who had caused it.

What began as an open call from Adbusters to show up with a tent grew from dozens to hundreds, to thousands, to tens of thousands. Far from rejecting the extended sit-in, area businesses plied demonstrators with food and support. Those who could not make it to New York started their own hometown Occupy protests in solidarity, hundreds of them, across the country and around the world.

Adhering to the advertised mantra, “What is our one demand?” the Occupy activists connected with like-minded organizers in social justice and helped paint a portrait of the larger malfeasance plaguing society today: Bankers who had pushed derivatives industry-wide as a credible investment, while knowing they were bogus funds made of worthless mortgages, had led the stock and housing markets into a punishing recession, while using government bailouts to give themselves obscene bonuses despite their negligence. At this same time was an emerging generation of unemployed millennials saddled with unprecedented student debt, as the banks had consolidated the student loan racket with high interest rates and no chance of bankruptcy protection under President Bush.

And who was looking out for Americans in this modern Depression? Basically, no one, because things got so bad in the first place because our elected leaders have become so beholden to their campaign donors. Since the 2010 Supreme Court decision Citizens United allowed unlimited outside spending in elections, candidates had dropped all pretense of serving their constituents, instead shifting their attention (and positions) in deference to billionaire kingmakers and Super PACs.

When beholding such a zero-sum option, it might seem clear why the only option left would be to get everyone you know to go out to the streets and bring this messed up paradox to the attention of everybody. Which is why, for whatever Occupy Wall Street is remembered for at its height, it should be considered an intervention for the country — a staged disruption by those who care, trying to alert an ailing entity to the damage it is inflicting. In this case, that entity with the destructive addictions is our modern political process, where who has the most money makes the rules, at the cost of all else — if it’s a Texas fertilizer plant exploding near a school, a chemical company polluting drinking water for all of West Virginia, or gun manufacturers decrying regulations despite massacred children.

With that is mind, assessing the impact of Occupy Wall Street might be best done by considering the goals of those who camped out in Zuccotti Park. For one, this was a protest, not a political party, so comparisons to the Tea Party are like apples and oranges. While the Tea Party turned outrage at the government into electoral gains (with a lot of help and money from the Kochs), Occupy Wall Street was at the opposite end of the spectrum – the end of the spectrum that views officeholders as courtesans for the corporate class. Asking Occupy activists why they didn’t just start a political party and run for office is like asking an atheist why they didn’t just pray harder.

Another essential in gauging the importance of Occupy Wall Street is recognizing that the Occupy movement did not simply fizzle out or lose steam. The fact is, Occupy encampments were broken up in a coordinated effort led by the Department of Homeland Security working with local police departments. This coordination was reported by Jason Leopold after acquiring DHS documents through the Freedom of Information Act. Far from losing momentum, the Occupy presence had grown so intense nationwide, gaining sustained media coverage, that this had become the biggest threat to the status quo in modern times. In widely documented raids, police drove protesters from public lands with blunt force, tear gas, and arrest, then proceeded to blame Occupy protesters for the mess that was left behind. Young protesters sprayed in the face with pepper spray without warning or provocation, rubber bullets fired at peaceful demonstrators, police charging with batons, this is what oppression looked like in 2011. This marked the era of the militarized police force, which has come under scrutiny in the wake of the Ferguson PD’s effort at martial law in Missouri.

So, besides the realization that heavily armed police forces consider themselves at war with their own communities, what else can we attribute to Occupy Wall Street with the benefit of hindsight? The immediate impact seemed to be how the debate in America changed almost overnight. No sooner had President Obama assumed office in 2009 than Republicans and conservatives began howling about deficit reduction. This sounds like a normal thing you do when you are running a first-world nation, but a more accurate way to look at it is that Republicans and Tea Partiers were demanding that Obama pay off the credit card charges from Bush/Cheney’s trillion-dollar war, as well as their $2 trillion giveaway in taxes to the very rich. And they were acting like these bills arrived with the Obama family in the White House. Without fail, the mainstream media and Beltway punditry wrung their hands about what Obama was gong to do with this mess, that he better do something or we’d go off the fiscal cliff that John Boehner just made up, and it would be all Obama’s fault that Boehner refused to hold a vote on basic government funding like every Congress before him.

But a funny thing happened when a few folks started talking about the richest one percent using their money to work the political system to get even richer. “WE ARE THE 99%” became the rallying cry of a generation. The simplicity and inclusivity was said to be worthy of Madison Avenue. At once the conversation had shifted, and in that discourse, a word started coming up that used to seem unspeakable: class. To at once dispel that American notion that we are so different from other countries while decrying staggering inequality made the struggle of others real. Not like a news piece on a family clipping coupons during a recession. Real, like this weighs on you, and becomes a sense of indignation for your fellow American, the way you were outraged when you saw New Orleans submerged from broken levees and its citizens struggling for days following Hurricane Katrina.

That awareness was more than a narrative, more than a meme, more than a point in a debate. The broad perception was that America wasn’t just on the wrong track, it had been held up by railroad bandits.

What this really did was set the stage for the 2012 elections.

Through the drifting clouds of tear gas, stepping over the trampled bodies of demonstrators, and grinning into the same cameras that just showed all hell breaking lose, came Mr. Magoo, the most awe-inspiring tone-deaf candidate for president at the worst/best possible time. With Bain Capital affirming his vulture cred, an income so huge he refused to reveal his tax returns, he ran on absolutely nothing except saying what we have now isn’t working, even though it seemed to be working fine for him.

This was the guy with his finger on the pulse of America who insisted, “Corporations are people, my friend,” presumably thinking he was talking to a corporation. Corporate personhood had been a target of ire for Occupy Wall Street since it tends to indemnify financial criminals, and also because Citizens United had granted corporations VIP access to politicians. If Occupy Wall Street had been criticized for calling out how 1% of the people own 40% of the wealth, it sure seemed kinder than insisting that 47% of Americans would never take care of themselves and only live off of the government. When he lost by five million votes, he was the only one surprised, and blamed the weather.

But the disconnect was real, and continued. It seemed every few months there was another tortured outburst in print from some of the wealthiest men in Manhattan about how unfair the scorn was they faced, even though this was years after the protesters left Zuccotti. The people who seemed to be taking Occupy Wall Street the most seriously were the ones that it was intended for.

As I screen my documentary PAY 2 PLAY, I am asked sometimes what happened to Occupy, since it is included in our film about outsiders trying to have a voice in our political system. I will tell them about how I have met others at our screenings that preface their activism by saying they got motivated first from Occupy Wall Street. I met a young woman in Seattle who had mobilized first as a local Occupy organizer, who had since been elected to city council. Some of the very entities hosting our film about the problems with money in politics were off-shoots from local Occupy groups.

But I think more than anything, the point of Occupy was using your voice to speak out and finding out that you are not alone, there are many who feel the same way, and you are energized by this shared recognition. And once that common reality and strength is realized, you can go back to sleeping in bed and still live in accordance to your own mission.

Maybe someday we’ll have a reunion for the Class of 2011. But for now, our gratitude and admiration go out to all who occupied and inspired. Thank you for showing us that we are not alone. Our patriotism and compassion will push this pay-to-play system into the dustbin of history.

John Wellington Ennis’s documentary PAY 2 PLAY: Democracy’s High Stakes is now having an extended run in NYC, LA, and DC.