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What Occupy Wall Street left behind

Zuccotti Park is empty these days, with no signs of another uprising, but the issues the protests brought to light in the national conversation still linger today. Here, a nearly empty Zuccotti Park on Nov. 16, 2011, after many protesters were evicted early November 15.

Kai Ryssdal: Newton's third law tell us that for every reaction there's an equal and opposite reaction. That's true in economics as it is in the hard sciences, it's just that those economic reactions tend to take a little while to play out.

After Lehman and the financial crisis, something was bound to happen. Which gets us to act two of my Manhattan walkabout with Heidi Moore: Zuccotti Park, what used to be Occupy Wall Street. Still lots of police and surveillance equipment, but if you hadn't known what was here, you'd never have known.

Heidi Moore: This vast moonscape of granite, this empty plaza that's full of commuters now, used to be a tent city full of protesters against the financial system -- signs, what seemed like a budding revolution almost. And now it is so gone that there aren't even police here. There aren't even barricades, because no one would even dare come here and try to protest again. And that might be a sad little statement on a movement that changed almost everything in our perception of Wall Street.

Ryssdal: As you said, there's nothing here now, but Occupy didn't get what it wanted.

Moore: What they got was a little bit more intangible. I think if you talk to people on Wall Street, what Occupy accomplished is that it brought income inequality to the forefront of the national conversation; it made a big fuss about what's wrong with the financial system, whereas before they might have argued, and other people might have argued, that the country was full of passive sheep that would just take whatever banks would give them. And here you had the beginning of a movement. Maybe it was defused, but it got the ball -- it didn't even get the ball rolling, because the ball had never rolled in the first place.

Ryssdal: And that's where we are now, right? You had Occupy on one side not happy with the economics and the finances in this country -- and for a totally different reason, you've got the Tea Party on the other side, equally unhappy with the economics of this country. And now that's what we're talking about this fall.

Moore: That's right. I don't know if you saw this cartoon, it ran in a newspaper a while back, but it showed Occupy Wall Street protesting in front of a bank, and it showed the Tea Party protesting in front of the government -- and if you panned up a few floors, it was the same building.

Ryssdal: Oh that's great. That's great.

Moore: They're interconnected -- Wall Street and the government are interconnected. And what Occupy Wall Street was started to do was to point that out.

Ryssdal: But Heidi, here's the thing: We're at Occupy Wall Street and yet there is no Occupy Wall Street. So the question is: Did anything change?

Moore: A lot, unfortunately, has not changed. So little things have, like bank fees; you saw people protesting about that and banks rolling them back. But the larger scale of the financial system, it's still too big to fail; regulation is still not in place. The connection of the economy to the financial markets is something that will remain questionable until, unfortunately, we see in another crisis just how deep we're in it.

About the author

Heidi N. Moore is The Guardian's U.S. finance and economics editor. She was formerly the New York bureau chief and Wall Street correspondent for Marketplace.

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