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Occupy Seattle camp in Westlake, October 15, 2011. (Photo: Jon Fowler)

Occupy Seattle camp in Westlake, October 15, 2011. (Photo: Jon Fowler)

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Occupy Movement Still Hanging On A Year Later

Liz Jones

A year ago, an idea was planted on Wall Street: "We are the 99 percent."

Monday marks a year into the Occupy movement. The demonstrations that started in New York quickly spread across the country and to the Northwest.

KUOW's Liz Jones has this look at what's happened with the Seattle movement and if it's brought about any changes.


Man: "Mic check!"

Group: "Mic check!"

Man: "What is it we need to do?"

Group: "What is it we need to do?"

Man: "What is it we're going to do tomorrow? A week from now? A month from now? A year from now?"

Group: "What is it we're going to do tomorrow? A week from now? A month from now? A year from now?"

Farris: "Occupy's general assembly definitely had flaws. If I never hear People's Mic again [laughs]"

That's Joshua Farris. And before that, an Occupy Seattle "mic check" from last fall. The group used that call–and–response format during large meetings and demonstrations.

Farris may have lost his patience for that unwieldy way to communicate and make decisions, but not for the cause itself.

Farris: "It was love at first sight. And some of the happiest moments in my life have been over the last year."

Farris is a US Army veteran; he served in Iraq. And he joined up with Occupy Seattle almost at the start.

Sound: Drumming.

Back then, the scene at Westlake was alive with demonstrators, police and media. Now, nearly a year later?

Reporter: "I'm here at Westlake Park, where the Occupy Seattle movement really took hold. At one point, dozens of tents were set up here over night. Police and demonstrators clashed and arrests were made. Someone who works down here told me that just until recently, there was a man with Occupy Seattle who'd be down here every day to give out information. But now he's gone and there's no sign of Occupy Seattle here anymore."

The tent camp is long gone from Westlake and from its next stop at Seattle Central Community College. But people who occupied those tents, like Josh Farris, say the movement is still going strong.

We met near the camp's former home at the college. He says a lot of people who fueled this local movement are still pushing on, just not here.

Farris: "They gravitated toward specific interests and ways in which they felt they could make a difference. And so, like, networks — I'm still connected to all the people I met through Occupy. But people are working on different projects."

Some of them splintered off into mini–Occupy groups in the neighborhoods — in Northeast Seattle, the Central District, Wallingford and other places. They focus on things like student debt, bank boycotts or programs to feed the hungry. But it appears some have fizzled out after a few initial meetings.

Another measure of change is tough to quantify. It's more individual. There's no doubt the movement shook up some people's lives for a short time, or longer.

Like with Joshua Farris — his life changed course when he showed up at Westlake.

Farris: "If it wasn't for Occupy, I'd still be in my apprenticeship, building condos for rich people and tearing down perfectly good brick apartments."

When Occupy happened, he walked away from a desirable union apprenticeship to become an electrician. Now he's working with a neighborhood group on Beacon Hill that tries to help people in foreclosure. It's a spin–off of Occupy, too.

A main criticism of Occupy Seattle stems from its setup as a leaderless movement. People on the outside, and inside, often complain that the goal is unclear.

Hasegawa: "Yeah, it's hard to say what the goal is because it is so bottom up."

That's Washington state Representative Bob Hasegawa. Even though he says Occupy's mission lacked focus, the movement serves a clear purpose.

Hasegawa: "Their goal has been mostly to bring the focus of the problem, but there aren't necessarily solutions being presented, but that's OK. Solutions will present themselves once people start understanding what the problems are and they've been very good at exposing what the problems are."

He says Occupy has given momentum to a bill he's pushed in Olympia to create a state bank. Under the measure, Washington tax dollars would go into a state account, rather than the current one at Bank of America. The interest earned on those funds would then be used to build roads, public housing and other infrastructure.

But overall, Hasegawa sees Occupy getting little traction with lawmakers in Olympia.

Hasegawa: "Um, I don't see it changing all that much. Politicians try to stay mainstream. To be hooked up with a more radical unit brings some fear."

In contrast, the Seattle City Council has passed at least one resolution in response to Occupy Seattle. It calls on the city to review its banking and investment practices.

Another pending bill would also change campaign financing for city elections. The sponsor, Mike O'Brien, says it's part of his pledge to address some of Occupy's concerns.

To gauge how history might measure Occupy Seattle, at least so far, we can look to the past. Sarah Ryan teaches history and labor studies at Evergreen State College in Olympia.

Ryan: "There's a number of precedents. I guess the original one would be the occupation of the city, which was the Seattle General Strike in 1919, where the labor unions basically shut down the city for about five days."

Ryan rattles off a list of similar occupations in the Northwest — by the Nisqually Tribe who wanted fishing rights, black contractors who wanted trade jobs in Seattle, and Latino activists who wanted a school on Beacon Hill.

She says all those efforts led to some level of reform.

Ryan: "Yes, they were successful, and a big part of success was claiming public space and changing the dialog about these issues."

But Ryan says Occupy may be missing a key element the others had: a clear and specific demand.

Still, with the movement barely a year old, Ryan warns it's tough to guess how history will measure its success.

Ryan: "It's too hard of a question to ask because we'll have to see if people use this tactic again. We'll have to see what happens with the debates we're having around public issues like regulating Wall Street."

And if those debates lead to any change.

I'm Liz Jones, KUOW News.

Occupy Seattle plans to hold a march and vigil Monday night at Westlake Park to mark the one–year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. That begins at 6 o'clock this evening.

© Copyright 2012, KUOW

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