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Checking in on the Occupy Wall Street movement

University of California, Davis Police Lt. John Pike uses pepper spray to move Occupy UC Davis protesters while blocking their exit from the school's quad November 18, 2011 in Davis, Calif.
University of California, Davis Police Lt. John Pike uses pepper spray to move Occupy UC Davis protesters while blocking their exit from the school's quad November 18, 2011 in Davis, Calif.
AP Photo/The Enterprise, Wayne Tilcock

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The long-awaited report on the UC Davis pepper-spray incident will be released later today. It'll look at the decisions that led to campus police spraying a crowd of seated protestors. Videos of the event went viral last November.

At that time, news programs were filled with reports on Occupy protests around the country. Now, six months later, much of the conflict that led to the pepper spay incident has died down. And so has the coverage. But what happened to the Occupy movement?

KPCC's Sanden Totten checked in with some of the past and present protesters to find out.

The Pew Research Center released a poll in December, as the Occupy movement was in full swing. It found that 77 percent of the public agreed with the general idea behind Occupy — that the corporations and the rich have too much power. That sentiment led people like Matt Ward to protest.

Before Occupy, Ward worked in traditional politics as a Democratic campaign manager and political strategist. But he didn't feel that work was addressing the issues he cared about, so he got interested in Occupy.

"It was really the disenchantment with politics. And it spoke to me because I saw this as an opportunity for a generation of people to come together and to sort of begin to have the conversation about what humanity really means," Ward said.

A half-year later, he's still involved. For the most part, Ward works on housing issues with a group called "Occupy Fights Foreclosures." But he says Occupy LA is planning a new large protest through Downtown L.A. for May 1st.

But according to Ward, there were only about 65 people at this week's general assembly meeting in L.A. That pales in comparison to the hundreds of protestors active here last fall.

There's another reason some people have left the Occupy movement. P.J. Davenport was one of the most active and vocal protesters but she couldn't stay involved.

"The reason that I stepped back from the movement is that I don't have unlimited supplies of cash and income set aside. I was fortunate in-between jobs that I was able to put five months into the project, but then I had to go back to the work," Davenport said. Her heart is still with Occupy, but for now, her time is with her paying job as a TV producer.

Though numbers of people at the protests have dwindled, and media attention has dropped off, protesters feel that they had an impact.

David Meyer, a professor of sociology and political science at UC Irvine, expects to hear echoes of Occupy in the 2012 election cycle.

"It's certainly going to be part of the dialogue during election. I mean, President Obama's talk shifted dramatically after Occupy, and I am sure his people are polling the issues and figuring which ones he can ride on. And he's been riding on them," Meyer said.

And Meyer says President Obama's "Buffet Rule" — that millionaires shouldn't pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries — was a by-product of the Occupy movement.

There's no big policy victories to point to because of the Occupy movement, but Meyer says that's to be expected. "I mean, it's like you get a fraction — when you are successful you get a fraction of what you are after. And you have to figure out whether to call it a defeat or a victory."

Meyer said the Occupy crowds skewed toward younger participants. Even if the movement fizzles now, he expects it will have left a mark on a lot of people. Meyers said they'll grow up and you may see them fight for similar causes later in life.


Sanden Totten, producer for KPCC