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'Occupiers' Reflect On Movement One Year Later


It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Melissa Block.


UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: We are the 99 percent. We are the 99 percent...

BLOCK: It was just about one year ago that Occupy protests started spreading around the country. First, in lower Manhattan, near Wall Street, then everywhere from Oakland to Oklahoma City to Orlando. One year later, the tent camps are gone. So what's happened to the movement and the people who joined it? We're going to check in again with two Occupy protesters whom I first talked with last October. First, Jason Potteiger. He was part of Occupy Boston. He's 26, graduated from Suffolk University with degrees in advertising and poli-sci. Jason, welcome back. Good to talk to you.

JASON POTTEIGER: Oh, thanks for having me.

BLOCK: I want to listen with you first to something that you told me last October about what drew you to join Occupy Boston in the first place.


POTTEIGER: When I look around to other people of my generation, we're really uncertain about what the future holds. We want to start families, or start our careers or even pay our college loans. What's happening in this country is becoming, it's becoming painfully clear that this something that really affects our generation in a big way, and I felt like I really just had to come out.

BLOCK: And Jason, you were camped out for quite awhile there in Boston. One year later how do you feel, disappointed? Did you see potential that was unfulfilled?

POTTEIGER: Well, you know, I think when we were down there, we were trying to figure out what this thing was. Was this going to be a movement? Was it going to become a political party? These were all questions that were floating around all the time and no one really had any answer. Looking back now, I think it was sort of like a political Woodstock that went on a little bit too long; at least that's how I joke with my friends about it. But for me now, I think it was a singular moment in time.

BLOCK: But something that didn't have staying power, at least as you see it.

POTTEIGER: I think the movement itself isn't going to continue, but I think the impact that it had is significant and we're going to continue to feel that.

BLOCK: And let's go ahead and bring Sam Abrahamson into the conversation. He was part of Occupy Chicago. He's 22 and graduated with a major in advertising from DePaul. Sam, welcome back. Good to talk to you again.

SAM ABRAHAMSON: Thanks. Thanks for having me.

BLOCK: And when you and I talked last October, I asked you about what would happen if Occupy didn't coalesce around a few demands. Let's listen to what you said.


ABRAHAMSON: I think that if you don't have a message, then yeah, eventually things will start to kind of fade out. Everyone will just protest themselves out and go back to business as usual.

BLOCK: Sam, do you think that's what's happened? Is everything back to business as usual?

ABRAHAMSON: Well, I think yes and no. I think that the Occupy name has sort of fallen out of favor. But I think that the spirit that was behind Occupy, this spirit of dissatisfaction with the status quo, I think that's very much in full swing and I think we're seeing that all over the world still.

BLOCK: What effects do you see on a tangible basis?

ABRAHAMSON: Well, I think that you're seeing a lot of people thinking more about economic issues and sort of getting away from the bipartisan narrative that there are only two sides to the political debate, the red team and the blue team. I think that sort of concept is starting to fall out of favor thanks to Occupy. That now people are seeing that well, both sides are being bribed by the same people.

BLOCK: There were tensions within the Occupy movement between those people who, you know, wanted some structure. Maybe wanted a hierarchy of some sort, and anarchists within the movement who really wanted it to be horizontal and leaderless and didn't want that structure at all, were fighting against that kind of structure. Sam, where did you fit in with that kind of tension?

ABRAHAMSON: Well, actually I was one of the anarchists.

BLOCK: Oh, yeah?

ABRAHAMSON: And that's actually one of the reasons why I started to participate in Occupy less. I started to see this direction of the dialogue where you have a group of activists - originally they were sending a message out to the people that they were trying to gather support from the general public. But then I started to see that the dialogue was shifting so that Occupy actions were being directed at corporations, at CEOs, at specific politicians. Tell such-and-such to stop doing this. And I think that that dialogue is really not as productive. Because I think that the people at the top of the pyramid, they know exactly what they're doing and they're not really going to listen to a bunch of activists who they portray as a bunch of hippies in drum circles.

BLOCK: And Jason, Sam's describing himself as being on the, sort of the anarchist end of that spectrum. What about you?

POTTEIGER: Well, I think I probably fall on the other end of that spectrum. I agree with Sam's analysis that it shouldn't have been targeting specific corporations or politicians. But I do think that we should have come around and made a big statement about - we want a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United or we want to end corporate personhood. We should have come out and had some big ideas to put forward to the American people. And I think that that's what they were looking for. So I am disappointed by that. And I think that in the future if something like Occupy happens again, hopefully there will be a structure within it that will allow the organization to speak.

BLOCK: Sam Abrahamson in Chicago and Jason Potteiger in Boston. Thanks to you both.

POTTEIGER: Thank you.

ABRAHAMSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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