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Did Occupy Change the Conversation About Economic Inequality?

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For the past 2 years, there’s been a common theme on the left that regardless of Occupy’s staying power, the one thing it did was change the conversation about economic inequality.

That might have been true at one time. It probably was true. Occupy focused important attention on personal debt, corporate domination over American society, the unfairness of the New Gilded Age. But if it did change the conversation, the conversation has changed back. The almost complete lack of outrage or even really serious political conversations over slashed food stamps benefits, the continued willingness of many in the Democratic Party, not to mention the Evil Capitalist Party Republican Party to make the life of the poor miserable in exchange for short-term political benefits/stories in Beltway media about how serious they are/donations from rich people. There are a couple of news reports, such as this one today about how food stamp cuts are forcing the poor to make hard choices they can’t really make. But that’s it. Where is the general anger? Why aren’t people on the street? There are many reasons for this. But in the end, even a brief but vigorous opposition to economic inequality can only have a limited staying power.

To be clear, I’m not blaming Occupy for this. I have my critique of that movement, but its trajectory and its members have no responsibility for the backsliding of America into a plutocratic-friendly political class and indifferent or hopeless working class. Occupy, however short-lasting, was purely beneficial. However, whatever Occupy may have done to focus attention on unemployment, income inequality, the welfare state, debt, and other issues of great economic unfairness in this nation has passed and the plutocrats reign as powerful as ever. It is going to take a much more sustained effort to draw attention to these problems. Because we have short attention spans and a political class and media not responsive to the poor, truly changing the conversation to get to a place where food stamps don’t get cut to make political points on the backs of the poor is a multi-year if not multi-decade effort of very hard work.

This is really just a reasonably half-baked thought after an evening of conversation with another historian concerned about these issues. But if the conversation changed somewhat, it’s basically back to 2009.

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