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Debate Thrives In Phoenix

One Year After OWS

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About 100, or so, activists marched in Phoenix, Ariz., on Sept. 17.
Critics May Declare The Occupy Movement A Failure, But 11 Months After Phoenix Joined The Party, Discussion Continues To Evolve

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By John Guzzon
Modern Times Magazine

Sept. 18, 2012 — Thousands of Americans took to the streets yesterday across the U.S. in commemoration of the beginning of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Critics, citing less intense enthusiasm, took the anniversary as a moment to declare the movement as pointless. The whole exercise was a failure, they said, because those that slept in parks and public spaces across the country for months accomplished nothing.

“As the Occupy movement turns one year old, its primary target — Wall Street — keeps churning out scandals. Major banks have been caught rigging key interest rates, laundering money and taking risky bets that lose billions of dollars. Yet the movement cannot claim any new policy, law or regulation as its own,” said Andrew Tangel of The Los Angeles Times.

Sure, Occupy doesn’t have a piece of legislation to notch on their belts. They also cannot claim they were able to influence capitalism to be more equitable.

But honestly, isn’t it a little much to ask a brand new group to influence Wall Street investors and corporations that put profit over people in less than 12 months?

Besides, Occupy Wall Street inspired hundreds of kindred Occupy groups across the country. From Arizona to Vermont and all points in between, the Occupy movement evolved into a grassroots group of individuals who jointly dislike income disparity.

If the story of Occupy Phoenix is an indication of went on across the U.S. — and reporting from national sources indicate it is — the Occupy movement may be leaner, but the spirit lives on. The core that is left behind is the foundation of the future movement that can begin to grow now that the “novelty” has worn off.

Perhaps even more importantly, affinity and splinter groups of like-minded individuals that don’t see Occupy as their solution any longer have been able to form their own groups, expanding public discourse in ways impossible a year ago.

The leaner, more “grown up” Occupy was on display Monday in Phoenix, as the 100 or so supporters not only marched and chanted, but several people stepped up at planned stops at corporate and banking locations to express their displeasure — and explain why.

At each stop along the march route — which progressed from Cesar Chavez Plaza to the Fourth Street Jail, the Wells Fargo building, Bank of America, Arizona Center, The Arizona Republic and Freeport-McMoRan — discussion was started.

One original Occupy Phoenix supporter, Kevin Hengehold, said at Arizona Center that thanks to the strength of Occupy Phoenix in November 2011, they were able to help weaken the American Legislative Exchange Council thanks to protests at the group’s legislative conference at the Kierland resort.

“If we are united in our struggle, I know the people, united, can never be defeated,” Hengehold said.

Also at Arizona Center, original Occupier Michael Royer spoke to the evils of the Citizens United decision.

“That is why corporations can spend as much as they want on these political campaigns,” Royer said. “We need to protest and we need to build.”

Sure, there was a lot less energy. And, the Valley Anarchists Circle — which has among its ranks some former Occupiers as well as some new members — derided the Occupy movement as flawed.

But the spirit of Occupy movement was palpable less than 10 months since the Rev. Jesse Jackson marched in Phoenix in early December.

“What is Occupy? Occupy is a spirit. A spirit of patriotism and democracy. Occupy is a spirit that cannot be jailed. Occupy is a spirit that cannot be pepper sprayed. It is a spirit that defines that there is a gap in equality,” Jackson said in December.

Over the past year, Occupy has embodied the spirit of American democracy that says anyone can have an opinion on how to change our American economic and political landscape. The Occupy movement merely provided that stage and a willing audience.

Richard A. Smith of Phoenix, a middle-aged Vietnam veteran who recently began Vietnam Veterans Against Mitt Romney with four friends, found ears willing to listen to his opinions.

“He (Romney) is a disgrace,” Smith said. “You have to vote out as many republicans as you can.”

Perhaps even more telling was when Royer queried the group as they paused in front of the Arizona Republic. He asked for the crowd to shout out stories the newspaper did not report adequately.

Almost immediately, Monsanto, Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, third-party presidential candidates, Freeport-McMoRan and the accumulation of wealth rose from the crowd.

If in no other way, the Occupy movement across the country — and specifically in Phoenix — has definitely succeeded in simply providing a forum for people’s ideas and criticisms.

Rome wasn’t built in a day.

And Occupy isn’t yet finished.

Related upcoming events

Valley Anarchist Circle will meet at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Jobot Coffee Shop, 918 N. Fifth St., Phoenix.

Phoenix supporters of Occupy will hold a Silent Bio-hazard Vigil Sept. 19 in front of McDonald's, 223 N. 7th Ave., Phoenix, beginning at 5 p.m.  For more information on this event, visit http://www.facebook.com/events/191877824277848/

John Guzzon is editor of Modern Times Magazine.

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