Changing the Subject: A Bottom-Up Account of Occupy Wall Street in New York City

Ruth Milkman, CUNY Graduate Center
Stephanie Luce, CUNY Murphy Institute
Penelope Lewis, CUNY Murphy Institute
Publication Date:
Jan 2013
Project Programs:
Social, Political, and Economic Inequality

The Occupy phenomenon riveted the media and the public for the next two months, until November 15, when the New York Police Department (NYPD) forcibly evicted the inhabitants of Zuccotti Park, one in a wave of such evictions in cities across the country. OWS fragmented in the wake of the evictions, but has since reappeared in new arenas. It is still too early to assess its long-term impact, but at this writing, more than a year after the evictions, Occupy’s impact on political discourse and on participants themselves remains palpable. Where did OWS come from? Who were the protesters? What motivated them to join this new movement? And why did the occupations gain such enormous traction with the media and the wider public? We investigated those questions through in-depth interviews with 25 core Occupy activists as well as a representative survey of 729 people who participated in an OWS-sponsored May 1, 2012 rally and march. Our research is confined to New York City, where the movement began and home to its main target: Wall Street. Although the dynamics of Occupy in other cities may differ in some respects, we hope that our analysis will contribute to understanding the larger Occupy movement in the United States.


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