Occupy Wall Street rises up for Sanders

Story highlights

  • A big march is planned in NYC on Saturday
  • The Sanders cause has helped reunite Occupy

(CNN)The forces of Occupy Wall Street, splintered and faded in the aftermath of their 2011 demonstrations, are getting the band back together to boost Bernie Sanders ahead of next week's critical New York primary.

Nearly five years since Occupy was evicted from Zuccotti Park, blocks from the New York Stock Exchange in lower Manhattan, a coalition of organizers, labor leaders and progressive activists who lined up under the banner of "the 99 percent" are renewing their efforts in pursuit of a more traditional cause: Getting voters to the polls on April 19.
That begins with traditional canvassing, but will extend to what is expected to be a large pro-Sanders, Occupy-inspired march on Saturday in Manhattan.
    "This is the place where the message of income inequality resonated across the country and across the world -- it's where it really began," said "People for Bernie" co-founder and Occupy activist Winnie Wong. "He's bringing it back home."
    In Sanders and in his campaign, the more mainstream elements of Occupy Wall Street have found an ideological ally. The Vermont senator's laser focus on economic issues are a big draw, local organizers said, but they also delight in his affection for the shoe-leather activism of past generations.
    "Canvassing and using apps to get people to vote and all that microtargeting stuff, that's important, but so is marching in the streets," said Charles Lenchner, who joined with Wong after efforts to draft Sen. Elizabeth Warren into the presidential race fell flat. Their "People for Bernie" popularized the "Feel the Bern" hashtag, a potent organizing tool and, nearly a year after its launch, a world-famous meme.
    For Lenchner and many of his peers, the Sanders candidacy represents a logical extension -- and validation -- of the original movement.
    "Occupy was a reaction to the financial collapse, to what happened because of Wall Street's power to destroy the economy, and Bernie's campaign is the one that has been consistently focused on the role of the '1 Percent,' large corporations and financial institutions," he said. "It's a very natural connection."

    The Occupy-Sanders mind meld

    A public show of electoral solidarity -- and a sign of things to come -- came last month, when prominent Occupy organizer Beka Economopoulos led a phone-banking effort for Sanders from Zuccotti Park. "It was another one of those moments that helped solidify the connection between the folks who had been part of Occupy and the Sanders campaign," Lenchner said.
    Occupy Wall Street as a coherent political project had already begun to fray by the time the New York Police Department, acting on orders from the city's then-mayor, Michael Bloomberg, cleared the park, arresting more than 240 protesters nearly two months after the "occupation" had begun.
    Many of the more pragmatic activists had become baffled or frustrated by the avant-garde in their midst, and had largely soured on the spectacle. Questions about the immediate direction of the movement could not be settled.