I spent a little time on Friday and Saturday meeting the lefty grassroots at RootsCamp, a New Organizing Institute mega-conference that drew around 700 people to D.C. (It wasn't the biggest camp in organization history, but it did fill up the National Education Association to the extent that an escalator stalled out, weighted down by fit-looking people.) The most interesting session: A look back at the Occupy movement. It had a past tense feel, starting with the... elbow room in the auditorium.
Only a couple dozen activists showed up. Organizers took advantage of this by urging everyone to occupy the front seats, break into groups, and talk, without amplification, about how the movement was doing. The overall mood: Optimism, tinted by nostalgia. "I was the first person arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge," said a bearded, youngish activist. "It was probably the most inspiring moment of my life."
It took a little while for the cynics to come out. "I'm going to be the grumpy old person," said a middle-aged woman from D.C. The movement, she said, had failed to transfer activism into political power. "The Tea Party went to Congress, and Occupy went to jail."
Others argued that she was missing the point -- heart in the right place, but too skeptical. "People were telling their stories," said one activist. "That "We Are the 99%" tumbler -- that made a huge impact, because there was no organizational push, it was people telling their own stories." Occupy had changed a national conversation about austerity into one about economic inequality.
But had they lost it? "I think that Occupy went astray a little bit at the end," said a New York activist. "I think Occupy became a lot about police brutality in the eyes of the media. It kind of distorted the narrative Occupy had in the media to begin with. At first, they talked about people who didn't have jobs. That turned into, whenever they'd talk about Occupy, they talked about police brutality. They lost the base there."
Hopefully we can refocus and re-energize what the movement should be about.