Published: Jan 08, 2012 02:00 AM
Modified: Jan 07, 2012 07:21 PM
The last few tents still standing in front of the post office on Franklin Street will come down Tuesday.
That's according to the organizers of the Occupy Chapel Hill encampment, which sprang up, along with similar protests in hundreds of communities throughout the U.S. and internationally, last fall.
What became a worldwide movement began with a ragtag little band in a small privately owned park in Manhattan, where a magazine called Adbusters organized the initial Occupy Wall Street protest. The protest at first seemed doomed to fade before it ever had a chance to grow, but the occupiers were nothing if not persistent, and when it became clear they weren't going to go away, the media started to pay attention, and the movement went viral, as they say.It gave hope and inspiration to untold numbers of people weary of struggling under an economic and political system that seems stacked increasingly in favor of the rich and powerful.
Ultimately, of course, the encampments dwindled and disappeared (in some places swept up by police). Chapel Hill's lasted longer than most; it probably is one of the last to pack up the tent poles.
So what was it all for? Did the occupiers accomplish anything?
There is no doubt that they changed the national conversation in a profound way. Whether they changed it in a lasting way depends on whether the energy behind the Occupy movement can be channeled into actual political and policy change.
Before the protests, the dominant theme in American political discourse was the right wing mantra that the biggest problem facing us was that government taxes, regulations and programs were soaking hard-working successful individuals and job-creating corporations and driving the nation into lethal debt.In that scenario, the wealthy are the oppressed, victimized by an administration bent on enforcing and imposing regulations designed to make it harder for them to build their fortunes, and taking ever more of their hard-earned income and giving it to the lazy middle class and even lazier poor.
The Occupy movement took a lot of the steam out of that topsy-turvy argument. But the occupiers in large part replaced that portrait with one calling attention to the fact that the wealth and power in this supposed land of equality and opportunity is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a very few, while the vast majority of Americans - the "99 percent" - grind away with less and less hope of improving their lots.
The Occupy movement was decentralized, disorganized and cluttered with dozens of competing causes. Many of its participants said that very lack of structure was its strength, but if Occupy is to be anything other than a footnote, it will have to find a way to direct all that diffused energy into focused, purposeful action.
It's true that "Occupy" has supplanted "Tea Party" in the national dialogue over the past few months. But while Occupy put people in tents, the Tea Party put people in Congress. There's a big difference.
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be published, broadcast or redistributed in any manner.