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Life Can Be Different: 10 Years Ago, Occupy Wall Street Changed the World

The movement launched a generation of leftist activists –and gave them a vision of real change.

I sprinted down Seventh Avenue, down Sixth Avenue, across Canal Street. Trucks and cars stood still as the bodies flooding the street halted their movement. People walked out of stores to cheer. Children pressed their faces to backseat windows while parents held up peace signs from the front.

Minutes earlier, I’d been standing in a crowd in New York City’s Union Square. Then the running had commenced, outpacing the police as we took the streets on our way to join another march.

It was 17 November 2011, and Occupy Wall Street was two months old. Three days earlier, the New York police department had raided Zuccotti park, home to the movement’s encampment. They’d used brute force to tear apart a peaceful protest and ruined thousands of books, but their pepper spray and riot gear were not enough to destroy the energy housed inside the park. “You can’t evict an idea whose time has come,” read many protest signs.

That was 10 years ago.

Occupy Wall Street politicized an entire generation – one that grew up under George W Bush in the post-9/11 years, pinning all their hopes on Barack Obama. Let down when his message of “hope and change” failed to manifest after the 2008 global financial crisis, they began to question American political and economic institutions themselves.

I was one of those millennials.

The movement upended my life, introducing me to new politics and people. It also upended the world, part of a string of uprisings that spread from Tunisia and Egypt to Spain and Chile to, finally, the United States.

Occupy’s rise in 2011 marked the re-entry of class consciousness into mainstream American politics. Occupy had two pillars: its critique of inequality, and its vision of an alternative way of organizing society. The former moved from the fringe to the center, bringing inequality into the national discourse; the latter has been largely overlooked. The movement made decisions by consensus, which was messy and slow, but it also challenged the idea that the way we live is a given.