An oral history of Occupy Wall Street, 10 years later

On the 10th anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, interfaith activists reflect on both the movement's failings and immense legacy and impact.

September 2021 marks the 10th anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street protest that took over Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan for two tumultuous months in 2011. The action began with little fanfare on Sept. 17, 2011, but soon captured worldwide attention. It ultimately inspired similar protests across the United States and in many international cities for its commentary on extreme income inequality and the gap between the wealthiest 1 percent and the rest of society.

“#Occupy@10: An Oral History” is a short documentary (30 minutes) produced by the Fellowship of Reconciliation, or FOR-USA, that tells the story of Occupy through the eyes of seven interfaith leaders and activists who participated in Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Oakland. They include Rev. Michael Ellick from Judson Memorial Church, Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt from the Fourth Universalist Society, Rev. Sandhya Rani Jha and Rev. Nichola Torbett, as well as Union Theological Seminary students Carolyn Klaasen and Matthew Arlyck and journalist Nathan Schneider.

In “#Occupy@10: An Oral History,” these interfaith leaders reflect on the enormous energy and excitement that characterized the idealistic beginnings of Occupy, a “leaderless” movement in which no money was needed and people lived and made decisions in common. Those heady days soon gave way to a sobering realization that lurking just beneath the class analysis that dominated the mostly young and white Occupy movement there was a broad-based lack of a racial or decolonial analysis.

The documentary recounts how these failings contributed to the ultimate fragmentation of the movement. In spite of these critiques, however, the interfaith activists in the film reflect positively on Occupy’s immense legacy and impact, and suggest that the movement’s DNA is evident in numerous front-line social movements and policy battles that have occurred in the decade since.

FOR-USA invites organizations and communities to use the film as a tool for deeper conversation surrounding the themes discussed in the documentary, including economic and racial inequality, intersectionality and faith-based activism. We offer a two-page study guide for facilitators that provides suggested questions for discussion and reflection. Any partners interested in screening events with the faith leaders featured in the film should contact FOR-USA.

This story was produced by Fellowship Magazine

Since 1918, the Fellowship of Reconciliation has published the award-winning print magazine Fellowship. It is also now online, offering original grassroots analysis, movement research, first-person commentary, poetry and more to help people of faith and conscience build a nonviolent, compassionate world.

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