One year on, Occupy Wall St diehards remain

One year after the start of global anti-capitalist protests, Laurie Penny talks to those still camping out.

Rina can't sleep. It's 2.30 in the morning and on Wall Street, on a small strip of pavement outside Trinity Church in Lower Manhattan, about 50 people are sleeping rough.

They are rolled in blankets and sleeping bags, hoods around their ears. One police car is on patrol to keep an eye on them. Some of them are a bit grubby. A slogan chalked on the pavement reads: "The dirty ones are on Wall Street."

There's a point being made.

"Look, here in the heart of the financial district of the richest city on earth there is still the puzzling problem of homelessness," says Rina, 19. "There are abandoned spaces in urban centres all over America, and yet people still don't have homes."

One year ago, a few metres down the road, Occupy Wall Street began - the first protest camp at Zucotti Park igniting a wave of anti-capitalist, anti-austerity protests across the world. Tonight it's just these few sleepers and one reporter, where a year ago you couldn't move for press. What happened between then and now?

Contrary to popular opinion, Occupy never entirely went away. There are hundreds of people across New York, and thousands across the US and Europe, whose lives are still devoted to the Occupy movement.

Many gave up everything to be part of the occupations and now they have nowhere else to go.

In the city where it all started, regular meetings still take place and organising is going on in the boroughs, but media interest has dwindled.

Across the world, the question being asked in time for the anniversary is: "What happened to Occupy?" It implies that the occupations drifted, that the activists lost interest and lacked direction. But none of the major camps disbanded of their own accord: all of them were evicted by force, with batons and tear gas and hundreds of arrests, by police forces bent on ensuring that sustained dissent against big banks and government-imposed austerity would not continue.

Without intervention would many of the occupations - some of which withstood blizzards - still be there?

"Support from the mainstream has slowly dwindled, and it's dwindled for the wrong reasons," says Logan Price, a long-standing organiser with Occupy. "The police had a carte blanche to do whatever they wanted to, and acted within the interests of the mayors and Homeland Security to go and break up the occupations and never let them come back. Here in New York, it's become normal that every time anybody tries to protest, the police will react heavy handedly. In effect, the right to civil assembly has been suspended in New York."

Back outside Wall Street, a young man is arrested. His crime was knocking on the window of the police car to wake up an officer who had fallen asleep, at which point five officers swooped to cuff him and take him away. The noise wakes the sleepers, who yell: "We love you, Will!"

Will was one of around 25 protesters to be arrested on Sunday during one of the first days of action planned for the anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. These include plans to surround the New York Stock Exchange today. Hundreds are flocking to New York to take part, and the officers of the NYPD are waiting.

The "Obama generation", who elected the President in 2008 on promises of hope and change, are not unaffected by the treatment of protesters ahead of the November election.

"I wouldn't vote in this election even if I could," says one protester, who'd just turned 17. "This election is kind of funny. It seems like we can either choose between going downhill gradually, or going downhill fast."

One of the officers who arrested Will comes back to remonstrate with the sleepers. "People are trying to sleep around here," he says.

The occupiers tell him they are being robbed by the people across the street at the stock exchange and could he possibly deal with it?

"It's been a year," he says. "The police have been more than patient with you people. Please, just be quiet now."

12 Months on
Hong Kong:
One of the longest-running Occupy encampments came to an end earlier this month after a court order allowed bailiffs to forcibly remove groups of activists from outside HSBC's Asian headquarters.

London: The Occupy protests reached London almost a month after the first tents began appearing in New York. Activists were evicted from their encampment outside St Paul's in January, but some say their efforts have made the public more likely to react to financial scandals.

Toronto: Supporters of Occupy Toronto planned to march to Parliament Hill today to "Stop [Prime Minister] Harper and demand real democracy". The group says it plans to hold a "people's parliament" gathering.Independent

- Independent

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