The Occupy movement has been a mostly peaceful campaign. But it has not been without drama, ranging from the protesters’ riotous parade of signage to their raucous street theater.
Prior to the violent turn of recent days, when members of the Oakland police department shot tear gas and rubber bullets at the city’s occupiers, one of the Occupy campaign’s most climatic moments involved civil rights paragon Reverend Jesse Jackson. On the evening of October 17, Jackson joined arms with the Zuccotti Park protesters to block the NYPD’s efforts to dismantle the OWS medical tent as the world watched via Twitter and Ustream. When this tense standoff was over, an interracial, inter-generational phalanx of activists had successfully bent the course of a determined thin blue line.
This moment literally and metaphorically linked civil rights activism to the contentious politics of today’s Occupy movement. Playing out over the fate of the protesters’ medical tent, the episode also shined a light on one of the lesser-noted dimensions of both the Occupy movement—its health politics—and how the civil rights movement offered a template for it.
From the beginning, the activists raised the issue of healthcare reform with underappreciated deliberation. Healthcare issues were foundational to the OWS protests and those that soon followed across the globe. As Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein observed, close to half of the 500-plus posts published on the “We Are the 99 Percent” Tumblr between August and early September mentioned “health concerns,” from the “cost of medication to forgoing treatment to treatment denials,” as their chief complaint. Although some have criticized the Occupy movement for lacking a focused message, these activists have a clear understanding of the many facets of health inequality.