Youth-Led Activism and the Legacy of Occupy Wall Street

Issue 250

Reverend Billy Talen Sep 7, 2019

Hi Billy, climate change seems scary enough, and now the Amazon is on fire. Is it fair to ask these kids — you know, Greta Thunberg, the Sunrise Movement activists and the like — to be leaders? Why should the burden fall to them? Isn’t it up to us adults who have been screwing up the planet?

— Bruce, Boerum Hill


These kids don’t need our blessing! We don’t “burden” them.

Greta Thunberg joins Xiuhtezcatll Martinez and Marlow Baines of the Earth Guardians, Nessa Diab and Colin Kaepernick, Severine Fleming from the Greenhorns, Kandi Mossett from Standing Rock, Alicia Garza and DeRay Mckesson from Black Lives Matter and the brave Parkland survivors. 

Among my examples here are some who were radical children a while ago. But check out how they have in common a highly original activism, not fulfilling the demands of an industry, not even the classic characteristics of “protesters.” Generally the kids shaking the air have the organizational shape of a swarm. I don’t hear them saying that there is a star or “next generation.” I don’t hear them using the word “leader” anymore because each of us needs to have that quality now.

My generation can learn from the young activists that our most basic sacred institutions are not as important as the survival of the Earth. They go on strike at their schools, for Christsake, which often means flouting their own parents. Our opposition to fossil fuel corporations and the big banks and fascist governments should take this inspiration and run with it. Strike, block the bastards with our bodies, talk to them and win them over — but don’t hesitate to trespass in their space. You see, this struggle shouldn’t be a burden — more like the sensation of weightlessness, of flying. Like being a child, Bruce, that joy!

— Earthalujah!


Hi Rev. Billy, the eighth anniversary of Occupy Wall Street is coming up. OWS was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. To see how masses of people could legit challenge bankers and politicians and police and real estate moguls was incredible. But every year the reunion gatherings in Zuccotti Park (Freedom Plaza) get smaller and I wonder if it all had any impact at all. Wall St. is corrupt as ever and Trump is president. You were there. Where’s the revolution we fought for now?   

— Trisha, Vinegar Hill


The failure to stage anniversaries is not in any way a measure of OWS’s impact. Occupy spread to 2,600 communities and it still resonates through the years the way that Standing Rock and Black Lives Matter do. The choir and I met veterans of Zuccotti Park in North Dakota and in Ferguson and the Women’s March and WorldPride on Stonewall’s 50th. This is a rushing stream of freedom fighters that will soon flood its banks.

Where’s the revolution? It isn’t what we thought it would be eight years ago. I believe that we will occupy space by pulling people from their screens. We will cause revolts by employees within fossil fuel and weapons and chemical corporations. We will march into the banks and pull the people off their screens with the hurricanes in our eyes.

Remember we have a lot to remember from Occupy, but each successful movement over the years has had its own unprecedented, unexpected and downright scary qualities. Wait a minute. Did you feel that? A movement is a starting over. The revolution is minutes away. It’s right here. It’s coming. Hear that? Get off that screen!

— Rev

Reverend Billy Talen is co-founder with Savitri D of the Church of Stop Shopping, a 40-voice activist choir.

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