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Occupy Wall Street was criticized at the time for railing against systemic problems without offering a concrete list of solutions. Yet protesters did speak out about policies they saw as unjust and about others that would address the ills they stood against. The movement has left an indelible mark not just on the national conversation about inequality but on the laws and structures that enable it. The rampant inequality Occupy decried has been perpetuated through decades of policy choices—and can be undone by the same. Below, we identify eight policy areas in which activists and lawmakers have, since 2011, tried to work toward a fairer America.

Research by Katrina Janco and Gloria Oladipo.

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$15 MINIMUM WAGE

Occupy Wall Street shined a bright light on the vast amounts of money hoarded by people at the top, but it also got the country talking about the meager wages paid to those at the bottom. Just a year after protesters occupied Zuccotti Park, the Fight for $15 movement began demanding a minimum wage of $15 an hour, plus the right to unionize, and it has experienced astonishing success. Ten states and Washington, D.C., have now passed legislation to raise their minimum wage to that level, as have dozens of cities. During his administration, President Obama supported a $9 an hour minimum wage, but by 2016, the Democratic Party had a $15 minimum wage in its platform. Democrats have yet to pass an increase while controlling Congress and the White House. President Biden did take executive action, however, to increase federal contractors’ pay to that level, affecting at least a quarter-million people.

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FREE COLLEGE

The protesters who camped in Zuccotti Park created the Occupy Student Debt Campaign with the goal of building a movement to abolish all student debt. One of the core principles was agitating for free public higher education, and it has left a mark. Since 2011, 16 states have launched statewide programs that make college free for students at certain types of institutions. It’s also an idea that has resonated with federal lawmakers, even if they haven’t passed legislation yet. Members of Congress have introduced a bill to offer tuition-free college, and after campaigning on two years of free community college for all, President Biden included it in his American Families Plan, which is now part of the Democrats’ stand-alone infrastructure package.

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