On September 17, 2011, the Occupy Wall Street movement first encamped in New York City’s Zuccotti Park, soon renamed Liberty Square. Within weeks, Occupy groups were spreading like wildfire throughout the United States so that, even today after the breakup of the encampments, almost every major city in the United States has an active Occupy cell. In those first months, thousands took to the streets and made groundbreaking use of social media to orchestrate major actions nationwide; the United States became the latest country to develop a major people’s movement since the wave of protest began in the Middle East earlier that year. The Occupy name, and the ideas behind it, quickly became international.
Tonight our guest is Dennis Trainor, Jr, director of American Autumn: An Occudoc, the full-length documentary on the rise of Occupy Wall St. The film is full of beautiful footage of occupiers as they march in the streets, mic check inside government meetings, and interfere with foreclosure auctions. There is, of course, extensive coverage of the brutal police crackdown on the movement. There’s vibrant music from folk singers, rappers, and radical marching bands like the Rude Mechanicals. The willingness of brave people to face physical violence and police oppression that’s led to over 7,000 arrests is chronicled lovingly with on-the-ground video.
Dennis Trainor, Jr, is no outsider, but a gonzo journalist at these events — like so many others who have come to chronicle this movement, he’s intimately involved. Autumn features footage of Trainor’s arrests and his involvement in many other actions. However, he never monopolizes the screen — lengthy interviews and engaging speeches are included by political pundits like Dr. Cornell West and Michael Moore, but also organizers, comedians, union representatives, veterans, Verizon workers and regular people who occupy.
Right at the outset, Trainor punctures the idea that OWS must have a single, simple demand. Its demands are the very lives and well-being of the occupiers and all of the 99%. Using crisp, entertaining animated graphics, American Autumn explains each of the key issues that this diverse movement links together: incarceration and the rise of the police state, health care, home foreclosures, war, and so on. It’s clear that the diversity of this movement is not its weakness but actually one of its strengths, forging new connections and making allies in unexpected places.
This is the last great hope for life as we know it. -George Barda Greenpeace activist
Many have pointed out that Occupy Wall Street “changed the national dialogue,” forcing both major parties to address issues like inequality, education and class struggle. American Autumn also makes it clear that the Occupy movement has changed protest. While it draws from roots in the 60s and earlier, there are new tools, new techniques, and a new attitude — in addition to larger numbers of people willing to “be part of the solution” than we’ve seen in decades, if ever. Occupy Wall Street at its best is not just about getting corporate money out of politics, or responding to the depravity of the big banks, but about changing what it means to have a voice in America.