Whether or not he ever realized it, and I doubt he did, Troy Davis, a 42 year old man who was executed in 2011 for the murder of a police officer — he had always maintained his innocence — probably had more to do with the early survival of the Occupy Wall Street than anybody.
Davis maintained his innocence up to his execution. In the 20 years between his conviction and execution, Davis and his defenders secured support from the public, celebrities, and human rights groups. Amnesty International and other groups such as National Association for the Advancement of Colored People took up Davis’s cause. Prominent politicians and leaders, including former President Jimmy Carter, Rev. Al Sharpton, Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former U.S. Congressman from Georgia and presidential candidate Bob Barr, and former FBI Director and judge William S. Sessions called upon the courts to grant Davis a new trial or evidentiary hearing.
In spite of how Occupy Wall Street was later accused by establishment liberals of being too white or too class based and not sufficiently “intersectional” the first two weeks of Occupy Wall Street often resembled a Black Lives Matter protest. Without the established New York City left who saw the movement as a platform to continue to protest Davis’s impending execution, I’m quite convinced that Occupy would have fizzled out before it even got started. Of course Davis was quickly forgotten almost as soon as the state of Georgia strapped him into the death chamber (and to be honest I had to Google “man executed who inspired early Occupy protests” even to remember his name). But even though he was executed for a crime he probably didn’t commit, Troy Davis didn’t die in vain. The largest protests in and around Zuccotti Park during the first week of Occupy Wall Street mostly involved the “one demand” to stay that very execution. That it’s has largely remained unmentioned among high profile commentators indicates that most of them probably weren’t at Zuccotti Park until the infamous pepper spray video went viral the next week.