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September 18, 2012

Occupy Movement Celebrates First Anniversary
    by Robert Kropp

Despite efforts to marginalize its accomplishments, the Occupy Movement has succeeded in keeping the issue of wealth inequality in the forefront of the national consciousness.

SocialFunds.com -- We are the 99%.

One year ago, that phrase was not yet part of the national lexicon. But now, it's ubiquitous.

The Occupy Wall Street movement turned one year old on Monday, and many mainstream pundits marked the occasion by reporting that some demonstrations had more of a police presence than they had protestors. Hundreds of protestors gathered at demonstrations marking the anniversary in New York City, and almost 200 were arrested.

In The New York Times, financial columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin sought to portray the movement as a fad, arguing that nothing of substance has resulted from its efforts.

Blogging on Slate, former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer did acknowledge that the Occupy Movement had changed the national dialogue on such issues as wealth inequality and the conduct of too-big-to-fail banks. He wrote, "This is a great American success story."

But Spitzer also criticized the movement's deliberately leaderless structure, arguing that the protestors need to demonstrate an "organizing principle" by involving themselves more directly in the political process. He recommended that they rally behind the Senatorial candidacy of Elizabeth Warren, who is running for the Massachusetts seat currently held by Republican Scott Brown.

If it remains unclear what the actual aims of the Occupy Movement are, it may well be the case that such lack of clarity is a deliberate expression of a loss of faith in the nation's institutions. Climate change and unsustainable consumption patterns threaten the fabric of civilization, yet policymakers choose to ignore the overwhelming evidence of science and do nothing substantial about them. Unfettered greed among those aforementioned too-big-to-fail banks succeeded in wrecking the world economy, but by now they're back to business as usual while the less fortunate continue to suffer.

And in its Citizens United decision, the US Supreme Court concretized the notion that corporations are people too, and are entitled to the same rights as individuals. As a result, the flow of money into the electoral system has become a deluge.

Also on Monday, The Nation released a video of Mitt Romney speaking to a roomful of wealthy supporters, in which he described 47% of Americans as believing "they are victims" and thus entitled to the largesse provided by government programs.

Also, the Federal Reserve Bank recently sought to stimulate the moribund housing market by lowering the interest rates banks have to pay on loans with which they lend money for mortgages. But instead of reducing mortgage rates, banks have maintained the old rates while pocketing the money they gained from the Fed's action.

So while it's beyond dispute that too little has been accomplished since the first Occupy demonstrations one year ago, it's also likely the movement has succeeded in keeping the issue of wealth inequality in the forefront of the national consciousness. Money remains far too powerful an influence over the nation's institutions, but the public outrage kindled in part by the Occupy Movement suggests that a sense of powerlessness over changing those institutions has lessened.

Shortly after last year's demonstrations began, Zevin Asset Management stated in support of the movement, "As socially responsible investors, we seek the same goals as those protesting." The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) soon followed suit, stating, "The 'occupy' movement is clear evidence of a fundamental shift in the public consciousness around corporate power and the need to keep it in check."

US SIF: The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment also issued a statement by CEO Lisa Woll, who said, "The Occupy movement occurring across the country, and indeed, around the world, speaks to many of the issues and concerns raised by sustainable and responsible investors over the past several decades-- and particularly since the unfolding of the recent financial crisis."

But in a recent article in Green Money Journal, Robert Zevin referred to his firm's statement of support, observing that many in the sustainable investment industry commended him for his "courage". He writes, "Apparently the idea that our core purpose is to make money rather than change society, has caused our former movement to feel in many instances more aligned with Wall Street than its occupiers."

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