Change often happens when the brutality of the status quo is made visible and therefore intolerable. Thus did slavery become unacceptable to ever more non-slaves before the Civil War. Thus did the rights of many groups in this country — women, people of color, gay people, disabled people — grow exponentially. Thus did marriage stop being an exclusive privilege of heterosexuality, and earlier, thanks to feminism, a hierarchical relationship between a husband with owner’s rights and wife with the status of property.
Occupy Wall Street allowed those silenced by shame, invisibility or lack of interest from the media to speak up. As a result, the realities behind our particular economic game came to be described more accurately; so much so that the media and politicians had to change their language to adjust to a series of previously ignored realities.
Part of what gave Occupy its particular beauty was the way the movement defined “we” as the 99 percent. That phrase (along with that contagious meme “the 1 percent”) entered our language, offering a far more inclusive way of imagining the world.
The encampments are now gone, but things that were born in them survive: coalitions and alliances and senses of possibility and frameworks for understanding what’s wrong and what could be right.
On the second anniversary of that day in Lower Manhattan when people first sat down in outrage and then stayed in dedication and solidarity and hope, remember them. Remember how unpredictably the world changes; remember those doing heroic work whom you might hear little about but who are all around you; remember to hope; remember to build; remember that Parisian drummer girl. Remember that you are, most likely, part of the 99 percent, and take up the burden that is also an invitation to change the world and occupy your dreams.
Rebecca Solnit, the author most recently of “The Faraway Nearby” spent time at Occupy San Francisco, Occupy Oakland and Occupy Wall Street in 2011. This essay is adapted from her introduction to Nathan Schneider’s new book, “Thank You, Anarchy.”