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#OccupyAlbany - A Look Back

Courtesy Occupy Albany

The Occupy Movement began five years ago as "Occupy Wall Street," when activists flooded a park in New York City with demands for economic equality. The movement takes credit for introducing income inequality into the broader political discourse, for inspiring the fight for a $15 minimum wage and even the Democratic presidential campaign of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. The local anti-establishment crusade against the power of elites — the so-called 1 percent — was known as Occupy Albany.

The original "Occupy Albany" encampment was one of 2,000 across the globeinspiredby the sit-in in New York’s Zuccotti Park.  It sprung up in Lafayette Park across from the State Capitol Building in October 2011. More than a hundred protestors, ranging from high school students to senior citizens, demonstrated in a show of solidarity bent on curbing "corporate greed" and the influence of Wall Street. Media immediately began to identify local voices of the national movement.  UAlbany Activist Sharmin Hossain said then that Occupy had special meaning for all college students.   "The education system is deteriorating because it's getting privatized. Our tuition is getting hiked as well as all our resources are being cut. We're asked to pay more for less."

Fast-foward five years. Did "Occupy Albany" make a difference? Kathy Manley was another familiar face and voice during Occupy Albany:   "Since Occupy there's a great deal of understanding about the income inequality that we have in this country and about how it's been increasing and increasing and how people are having a harder and harder time."

State Assemblywoman Pat Fahy agrees with that assessment and adds:  "The economic divide in the country has grown tremendously. The wage gap, the low-income wages, have not kept pace, especially in last 40 years, whereas those at the highest level, the one percenters, that again the Occupy movement put on the map, that one percent, those incomes have grown dramatically in the last 40 years, even in the last 10 to 20 years. So I think it began the seeds of education, so in that regard, I give it tremendous credit."

Albany City Treasurer Darius Shahinfar believes Occupy successfully brought the important economic issues of "everyday people" to the forefront:  "I think it really has changed the psychology of people both in the Capital Region and nationwide about what we expect from our government. And I think it really manifested itself in the Bernie Sanders campaign this year, that's for sure.

It's also for sure that Occupy Albany became a thorn in the side ofstate and local government. On December 22nd, 2011,  as the cold and snow closed in,  Occupy Albanyignored an order from the city to vacate the park... then, on Christmas Eve, police moved in to end the occupation, arriving in the afternoon on the day of the deadline, as they had promised. In some other cities, lawmen came without warning, in dead of night. By early evening, all the Occupy Albany tents were gone, save one taken intact by the protesters, who paraded it through the city. [Video]  That led to a protracted legal standoff; eventually, charges against the protesters were not pursued by the district attorney.

Again, Kathy Manley:   "I don't know if I could point to particular victories that come directly from Occupy, but there's many many people who were involved in Occupy who've been active since then in many causes and campaigns, like increasing the minimum wage, Black Lives Matter, and generally criminal justice reform and a lot of environmental issues too. Opposing global warming, protesting the oil trains."

In early 2012 Occupy Albany moved indoors, opened a storefront headquarters in the city, and to this day maintains a presence on Facebook, where, although apparently dormant, it waits for a new chance to mobilize the masses, perhaps.

Credit WAMC composite image by Dave Lucas
Scenes from Occupy Albany's presence in New York's Capital City.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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