Occupy Wall Street
The Occupy movement started in New York but became an ongoing national story as it spread across the country. Reuters

Occupy Wall Street registers as one of the biggest surprises of 2011. Initially dismissed as an ephemeral gathering of the ragged lefist fringe, the movement that began in America's financial epicenter defied predictions of a swift demise. Despite constant criticisms that it lacked a concrete set of goals or demands, Occupy Wall Street's broad critique of economic injustice resonated with a country still grappling with the fallout from the financial crisis. Offshoots sprang up in cities and college campuses from coast to coast, drawing extensive media coverage and leading elected officials to weigh in.

Whether the movement can sustain itself, particularly by engaging directly with the political process, is an open question. But Occupy Wall Street changed the conversation. Phrases like We are the 99 percent have entered the popular lexicon: in a speech defending his vision for America, President Barack Obama said of policies that guarantee equal opportunity, These aren't 1% values or 99% values. They're American values. And we have to reclaim them.

Herewith, a timeline of Occupy Wall Street.

Sept. 17: The protests begin. Spurred by calls from the anti-corporate magazine Adbusters to Occupy Wall Street and create an American version of Tahrir Square, the nexus of Egypt's popular uprising, activists had met and begun organizing in August. On September 17 hundreds of people descend on Wall Street, waving signs and shouting slogans. Protesters set up camp in Zuccotti Park, a little known patch of granite and trees that would soon become a household name.

Sept. 26: A video of police officers trapping protesters in an orange net and then pepper spraying them without provocation goes viral. Five days later, more than 700 demonstrators are arrested as they march across the Brooklyn Bridge. The perception that the police are using heavy-handed tactics to suppress a peaceful demonstration helps to build public sympathy for the movement. Zuccotti Park begins to resemble a tiny, self-sufficient village, complete with tents, a food station and a media center powered by portable generators.

Sept. 28-29: Protesters organize Occupy rallies in Boston and in San Francisco, offering an early sign of the movement's potential.

Oct. 5: A massive rally at Foley Square draws thousands of people in the movement's largest show of strength yet. Labor unions had begun endorsing the movement in the days preceding the rally, initiating an at times uneasy alliance between the unions, a traditional bastion of liberal support, and the protesters, who remained wary of being co-opted by institutions.

Early October: Politicians are taking notice. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney derides Occupy Wall Street for inciting class warfare, while his GOP rival Herman Cain told protesters to blame yourself for being unemployed or not wealthy. Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus take the opposite approach, praising Occupy Wall Street and saying they have been inspired. President Obama is circumspect as always, saying only that he understand why Americans are frustrated.

Oct. 14: Protesters avert eviction from Zuccotti park after an electrifying early morning standoff with authorities. New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg had visited the park and told the protesters that they needed to vacate the space so its developers, Brookfield Properties, could clean. The occupiers suspected that the move was a pretense to remove them from Zuccotti Park, so they packed the park with thousands of people determined to resist. Brookfield flinched and postponed the scheduled cleaning.

Oct. 16: A global Day of Rage features rallies condemning financial corruption in more than 900 cities in Europe, Asia, Africa and the United States. While the demonstrations are mostly peaceful they spiral into violence in Rome, where protesters smash windows and set cars on fire.

Oct. 25: Oakland is engulfed in violence after police officers force protesters from their encampment at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza. Police officers clad in riot gear and employing tear gas create what would become an enduring symbol of brutality after an Iraq war veteran is struck in the head by a tear gas canister and critically injured. Oakland mayor Jean Quan faces intense criticism. While Quan seeks to negotiate with protesters who continue to occupy a public plaza, members of her embattled administration begin to resign.

Nov. 2: Occupy Oakland successfully shuts down the city's ports, halting commerce at one of the country's largest shipping hubs.

Nov. 10: Eleven mayors participate in a conference call to discuss the Occupy branches in their respective cities. They later repudiate suggestions of having organized a crackdown on encampents in Denver, Portland, Oakland, Salt Lake City and most signficantly...

Nov. 15: Hundreds of New York police officers sweep into Zuccotti Park in the early hours of the morning, dismantling the tent city in a surprise raid that had been secretly planned at the highest levels. A trial court judge rules later in the day that the protesters have no constitutional right to erect tents or other structures in Zuccotti Park, a victory for Brookfield.

Nov. 17: Occupy Wall Street regroups for a day of protests commemorating the two month anniversary of the movement. Protesters march through downtown Manhattan and clash with police officers throughout the day, at one point returning to Zuccotti Park and tearing down the metal barricades encircling the space. The day culminates with another massive rally in Foley Square, bolstered by unions and students, and a march across the Brooklyn Bridge.

Nov. 18: A video of a police officer pepper spraying students at the University of California, Davis goes viral. The image of the officer nonchalantly spraying seated protesters quickly becomes an Internet meme.

Nov. 29: Police clear Occupy encampments in Los Angeles and Philadelphia.

Dec. 6: The Occupy movement holds a national Occupy Homes day directed at foreclosures. In East New York, an impoverished Brooklyn neighborhood ravaged by a soaring foreclosure rate, protesters put a homeless family in a foreclosed-upon home.

Dec. 7: Police remove protesters camped out in San Francisco.

Dec. 10: Police evict protesters in Boston, arresting 46 in the process.

Dec. 12: Protesters again target the ports, disrupting activity at ports in Oakland, Portland and Long Beach. While organizers say the action was intended to hurt the profits of corporate behemoth Goldman Sachs Group Inc., the actions are a source of frustration for many unions and workers.