Aspiration & Struggle

The Occupy Movement: Evolving With the Help of Millennials

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“We are the 99 percent.”

This phrase, which began during the formation of Occupy Wall Street (OWS) as a Tumblr blog of the stories of struggling Americans, soon became synonymous with the greater Occupy movement and is now cemented into American vernacular and history.

The 99 Percent

The 99 percent refers to the vast majority of the population, or the common person. They are the opposite of the richest 1 percent of society, whom the Occupiers believe hold a disproportionate amount of power along with their wealth. That power was a central complaint of OWS, whose goals were to protest both the growing wealth gap and Wall Street’s involvement in the financial crisis.

If you haven’t thought about OWS since 2011, you might think that it disappeared with the last of the protesters from Zuccotti Park—who were mostly Millennials—but that’s far from the case. Here’s how the movement has evolved, and how Millennials continue to be involved.

What Is the Occupy Movement?

Officially begun in New York City in September 2011, the OWS message soon spread, resonating with disillusioned Americans across the country and with those who felt disillusioned with their own societies around the world. This lead to an international array of protests, marches, and sit-ins — and the birth of the greater Occupy movement.

Though some criticized Occupy for its lack of clear demands, the movement was purposeful and its message one of solidarity: No matter what you wanted, if you were part of the 99 percent, this movement was for you.

Major grievances of the Millennial Occupiers included crippling student loan debt and the inability to find well-paying jobs during a global recession.

Where Are the Millennials of the Occupy Movement Now?

The last major Occupy encampments in New York were shut down by police in early 2012, but that did not signify the end of the movement.

Inspired by the ideals and structure of OWS, many supporters, especially Millennials, continue to spread the Occupy message in a variety of ways:

  • Priscilla Grim works with @OccupyWallStNYC to connect and mobilize Occupy movements worldwide. “The majority of on-the-ground actions are led by Millennials, who have more flexible schedules and less commitments,” she says. The current #BlackLivesMatter movement is one example of this.
  • Students at Corinthian Colleges (calling themselves #Corinthian15) have declared that they refuse to pay their college loans as a way to fight the nation’s student debt crisis.
  • Robinhood, a fee-free stock-trading app, was recently developed by two Millennials who were working, unfulfilled, on Wall Street during the original protests.

Clearly, Millennials still believe in OWS. And Michael Pellagatti, who slept at Zuccotti Park during OWS and now offers historical tours of the protest area, doesn’t think the ripple effects will stop there. “The Occupy movement is like a little snowball that rolls down a mountain, and gets bigger and bigger and bigger—until it becomes an avalanche,” he says. “While the original snowball has dissipated, its effect is enveloping… the movement went from one central location (Liberty Square) to being practically everywhere.”

For Millennials, OWS was a defining moment in history. Today, the Occupy movement continues to live on, sparking a lasting desire for change.