Four and half years ago, watching the Occupy Wall Street movement take off, Bernie Sanders hailed the “extremely important” work activists were doing in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park and across the country. “We have got to continue to focus on the greed of Wall Street, and we’ve got to bring about real reforms to end the kind of abusive behavior that is taking place,” Sanders said at the time.
The presidential campaign he’s run over the last year has been designed to show Americans, including those who gathered at Occupy encampments, that he’s still focused on those goals: protesting the influence of corporate money in American politics, demanding the architects of the financial crisis be held accountable for their reckless actions, and registering moral outrage at the obscene and rapidly increasing rate of income inequality in the United States.
Whether the message has resonated — and resonated loud enough to create a political revolution — will, at least in part, be discovered after Tuesday’s primary in Occupy Wall Street’s birthplace, New York.
A week before the primary, the streets around New York City’s Washington Square Park are teeming with people anxious to get past the police barricades and through the metal detectors that lead to what will later be hailed is one of the biggest rallies of Sanders’ campaign.
The crowd is almost implausibly on-brand for the occasion: Someone is handing out leaflets with information about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, someone else is gathering signatures for an anti-fracking petition and another person wants you to know about an upcoming rally to close Rikers Island prison. A splinter faction of union members picketing Verizon have Washington Place blocked off, and everywhere people are extending pamphlets and chirping, “Are you interested in socialism?”
Crowds like this — the campaign claims 27,000 attendees — are an encouraging sign for Sanders, because New York is a critical contest; without a solid win in the Empire State, Sanders’ chances of securing the nomination significantly narrow. And as Sanders has acknowledged himself, he’ll need a historic turnout to win the state by the margins he needs to. (The average poll still has Hillary Clinton up by more than 11 points.)
That historic turnout — the kind that Sanders desperately needs in New York Tuesday — is a key component of the political revolution he’s been touting on the campaign trail for the past year. So far, Democratic primary turnout has been down this year — bad news for Sanders. But one of the things he has going for him in New York City, at least, if not the state as a whole, is the dedicated support of many Occupy activists who helped spur their own nationwide movement in 2011.
In New York there are signs that key pieces of the apparatus responsible for transforming Occupy into a national phenomenon are now mobilizing to get out the vote for Bernie: veterans have phone-banked for the senator from Zuccotti Park, they’ve marched through the streets for him, and, early on, a number of them formed People for Bernie — one of the most visible groups canvassing on Sanders’ behalf. The fact that so many former Occupiers are rallying behind Sanders is all the more remarkable for the fact that Occupy, from the start, adamantly resisted attempts to focus its power on electoral politics.