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Farewell to the Occupation: How OWS Achieved its Goal Despite Not Having One

The NYPD, 1,000-strong and in military formation, cleared out Zuccotti Park overnight, effectively ending Occupy Wall Street, the two-month-old protest movement which had caught fire across the world. And this morning Occupy Toronto got its own visit from the municipal authorities as officers marched into St. James Park with eviction notices in hand.

Other cities had already started kettling the protests, from Oakland's violent police raid and Portland's peaceful one to threats of imminent eviction in Vancouver, Calgary and elsewhere across North America. No matter what happens at the hundreds of other Occupy sites, this encampment stage of the movement has reached its conclusion with the loss of its spiritual home on Wall Street.

But that's cool.

The protests started way too late in the season and it's far more effective for the movement to be dramatically driven out by a riot police than to trickle away in dribs and drabs as winter rolls in. Not to mention that the few unfortunate drug overdoses and deaths had given right-wing critics unnecessary ammunition to dismiss the legitimate concerns raised by Occupy.

When I was at Zuccotti Park last month, it felt like the fringes of a multiday music festival -- yes, there were neo-hippies on hand, but also union workers and senior citizens and curious tourists drawn to the site to see for themselves what it was all about. A few people may have worn the infamous Guy Fawkes masks from the dystopian drama V for Vendetta, but OWS felt optimistic not cynical. Even the cops seemed chill and relaxed.

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So yes, it's sad that it's over. But Occupy had already become the political movement with the most impact our generation has ever seen. Despite proudly proclaiming they had no goal, they actually achieved it.

For much of 2011, politics revolved around "austerity" but today the watchword is "inequality." This is no small feat.

The right's much-touted austerity measures have a hidden agenda, which is to use the ongoing economic instability as cover to slash and burn social services for the poor and middle-class without touching the rich's riches.

Tea Party-led Republicans continue pushing for massive budget cuts while refusing to touch taxes, even on millionaires. Canada may be less affected by the ongoing economic unrest, but social programs are still being threatened by Conservative leaders like Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who plans to cut $4 billion in spending annually, and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who hopes to slash subsidized daycare and libraries and has already cut the Christmas Bureau, which organized holiday gifts for poor children.

For Conservatives, the Great Recession has been a boon -- which, perhaps, is why they allowed it to happen on their deregulated watch. It's nearly impossible to cut social services in a strong economy, but that's their endgame regardless of how the stock markets are doing.

Many accuse the Conservatives of being short-sighted -- be it the Tea Party's manufactured debt ceiling crisis which caused America's lowered credit rating and the sixth biggest stock crash in history or Rob Ford's repeal of the vehicle registration tax which put Toronto $60 million in the hole on his first day -- but they are engaged in what could rightly be called a "long con."

These Conservatives got into politics to cut as much as they could while they could, safe in the knowledge that adding is harder than subtracting when it comes to budgets. It doesn't matter to them if austerity measures go too far and create a riot-ready permanent underclass, as we saw when a generation of hopeless kids set the UK ablaze this summer. They don't even really care about being re-elected, since their successors would be lucky to undo half of their cuts and besides, they'd be able to rejoin the private sector with less regulations and lower taxes.

But Occupy changed all that. By drawing attention to the gulf between rich and poor, it shone a bright light on what the right was trying to do. For two months, income inequality has been the topic of conversation at dinner tables and water coolers the world over. It robbed austerity of its seemingly inexorable momentum, aimed the public's ire against the corporate and banking interests benefiting from our economic misfortune and made progressive issues dominant just as our politicians get back to balancing their books.

So the tent cities may come down in New York and Toronto and elsewhere, but they were just a physical manifestation of a movement that has now gone viral. The parks can be emptied, but the 99 per cent remain -- and we're still angry.

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