by Ann Kathleen Bradley
Two years ago today, when Occupy Wall Street was evicted from Zuccotti Park, many wondered what was next for the movement. Two years later, we profile five projects that got their starts in the encampments and are still making change today.
It was a cold night in late January 2012. The New York subway doors opened and a tall, dark-haired, 30-ish young man dressed entirely in black--leather jacket, jeans, and boots--stepped into the car. Hanging from his backpack were an orange plastic bullhorn and a small drum; tied on top was a thin sleeping mat.
After protesters like him were evicted, no one knew where the movement was going and what it was going to do next. Two years later, though, the answers to those questions are beginning to become clear. He was one of the small army of Occupy Wall Streeters who had been driven from the park on November 15--two years ago today. He and some friends had been camping out in a vacant house to prevent the bank from foreclosing on it, he told us, but the winter weather had forced them to leave.
One way to get a handle on what became of the Occupy movement is to track the continuing work of its participants, five of whom we've profiled here. All of them were active in Occupy encampments, and now they are focused on channeling the energy and commitment to direct social action that fueled the movement into ensuring that Occupy groups born in the parks will continue to grow and work for lasting change.Laurie Wen Healthcare for the 99%
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Just a week or so into the occupation, Laurie Wen and other members of Physicians for a National Health Program joined a solidarity march and then camped out overnight in Zuccotti Park to advocate for single-payer, publicly financed universal health insurance.
"That is still the mission of the group," she says.
At the group's speak-outs and teach-ins in parks around the city, doctors and patients talked about what is wrong with the nation's healthcare system and how to fix it. "The doctors would talk about how painful it is to see their patients suffering because they don't have enough insurance or have the wrong kind," Wen says.
During "99 Doctors Give Flu Shots to the 99%," an event the group held on November 13, 2011, members gave a couple hundred flu shots to people in Zuccotti Park. They also held rallies and marches--some targeting private insurance companies "because their mission is profit, not necessarily to provide care," Wen says. "And that very much jibes with the central tenet of OWS--corporate greed versus human need."
Physicians for a National Health Program continues to advocate for putting human needs first, she says. Right now they're working on a bill that would provide universal single payer healthcare in New York state, and pushing for its passage. "We have majority co-sponsorship in the New York State Assembly--enough legislators to pass the bill if Speaker Sheldon Silver would just bring it to the floor." The group also supports the proposed "Robin Hood tax" on financial speculation.
"That money could very well fund a lot of human needs," she notes, "including health care."
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Atlanta's chapter of Occupy Our Homes came out of conversations in downtown Woodruff Park after Occupy assemblies in Atlanta began in October 2011, according to organizer Tim Franzen. "We were thinking about how to challenge the financial institutions that crashed the economy," he recalls, "and some of us started talking about [fighting] foreclosures and evictions as ways to do that."
The first step in that process came through social media. As an experiment, Occupy Homes put out a tweet saying they wanted to put a face on the foreclosure crisis. First to respond was a law enforcement officer facing eviction along with his wife and three kids. The group mobilized quickly--surrounding the house with tents, dropping a banner over it that said "THIS HOME IS OCCUPIED," and maintaining a presence day and night. After a press conference that got a lot of media attention, other cities caught on to the idea--culminating in a nationwide day of home occupations on December 6. The most active chapters of Occupy Homes at the moment are in Atlanta, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles, according to Franzen.
The Occupy Homes website contains a petition page that makes it easy to mobilize support for resisting a foreclosure or eviction. "Once they get 100 signatures," Franzen explains, "an organizer calls them and coaches them through the process of creating a public pressure campaign: how to get press, organize bank protests, negotiate with their lender or landlord."