BERKELEY -- On its first birthday Monday, the Occupy movement celebrated from New York to San Francisco and Berkeley, where activists took credit for elevating income inequality, bank lending abuses and outright greed into the national consciousness.
Those who came out Monday in the Bay Area said the movement is alive and making real change, even though protesters are no longer setting up tents in bank lobbies and battling police in the streets.
"The energy is continuing," said Rabbi Arthur Waskow, of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia, who protested Monday in Berkeley. "It didn't disappear."
In New York, protesters clogged intersections and roamed around the lower Manhattan financial district all morning where police arrested about 100 by midafternoon.
In front of the Wells Fargo in downtown Berkeley, about 60 people celebrating Rosh Hashana listened to a group of Rabbis talk about the evils of big banks making money off home loans and foreclosures.
And in San Francisco, activists planned a daylong menu of events, including a march, a "debt burning" festival and demonstrations at banks.
Waskow, whose Shalom Center in Philadelphia works for social justice, came to Berkeley for the Rosh Hashana protest and believes Occupy changed the national discussion about financial equality.
"Occupy changed the conversation in the U.S. so we could talk about the concentration of wealth and power," Waskow said. "Before it wasn't even taboo to talk about, it didn't exist. Suddenly, it was talkable. Now people are focused on keeping their houses and (on) the banks that were the center of the financial collapse."
But as organizers hail the movement's successes, in Oakland it devolved into street warfare with vandals and angry anarchists squaring off against police. The message was muddled as a long list of social justice causes joined the grievances against capitalism, including police brutality, prison reform and protecting medicinal marijuana laws. Those at a large Occupy camp at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza in front of Oakland City Hall With were joined by drug dealers, street people and anarchists. Businesses were damaged, several people were critically injured in clashes with police and hundreds were arrested in protests held over several months.
"Occupy Oakland was tragically unable to deal with undercover police and anarchists," said Rabbi Michael Lerner of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue Without Walls in Berkeley and San Francisco, who joined the Berkeley protest Monday.
Still, Bay Area organizers say their message has been elevated beyond what they ever imagined.
Julien Ball and Buck Bagot, members of Occupy Bernal in San Francisco's Bernal Heights neighborhood, said the movement gave them a launchpad to help people in their area fight banks on foreclosures. Bagot said since January they've helped more than 300 homeowners facing foreclosure avoid an auction, won 52 permanent loan modifications and stopped six evictions.
"A lot of people for a long time have had the general idea that things were not working for them and a tiny minority had a lot of power," Ball said. "The Occupy movement put that into a framework and inspired other people to fight back."
At Wells Fargo, which posted a second-quarter profit of $4.6 billion, up 17 percent from the year before, spokeswoman Mariana Phipps said the bank respects the movement's right to protest, but Occupy has not fairly characterized the facts about its business.
"We have a long history of local community investment and prudent risk management," Phipps said.
Phipps said the bank donated $213 million to 19,000 nonprofits in the last year, and its employees donated 1.5 million volunteer hours.
Mike King, an Occupy Oakland member who helped bring thousands of people to the entrances of the Port of Oakland and shut down one of the busiest shipping hubs in the country on Nov. 2, said Occupy has moved to the neighborhoods and the workers.
He cited his group's work organizing workers and riders of AC Transit about fare increases and driver pay cuts, the recent takeover of a building in the Fruitvale district to try to start a community library and an upcoming Community Speak Out against police brutality at the Eastmont Mall in Oakland as examples of the kind of work that was spawned by Occupy.
"In all of these efforts, we've gotten an overwhelming response from people in the city," King said. "And you can't gauge that kind of response at a demonstration."
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.