PORTLAND – Sept. 17 is the one-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. Occupy’s history in Maine does not begin until a few weeks later, when a gathering in Monument Square turned into an occupation in Lincoln Park.

Maine is not unique in this respect. At the time the first tents were pitched in the square and the first general assembly was held, occupations were popping up everywhere: Oakland, Cleveland, Houston and so on. Occupations in Bangor and other locations in Maine would follow.

We say “Occupy Wall Street,” but “Occupy” only really became something when it expanded beyond the confines of New York City to become, if not a national movement, then at the very least multiple movements.

Something happened in those few weeks, something unexpected: A protest, a demonstration, became something larger, something unanticipated. How that happened is still difficult to explain.

Occupy, as it has come to be known, seemed to come from nowhere, addressing concerns about the widening gap of inequality and the political power of wealth. These concerns were, and continue to be, outside of either party’s purview.

The very existence of occupations across the country by people with little or no contact, and without any coordinating organization, suggests that Occupy addressed a slumbering discontent at the heart of American society, a discontent with the existing economic system and the influence of wealth over politics and life.

Occupy immediately shifted the terms of political debate, introducing a new vocabulary that focused on the distribution of wealth in this country, and a growing gap between the 99 percent and the 1 percent, who control much of the wealth, and consequently, political power.

While introducing the question of inequality into mainstream political discourse is an important achievement in its own right, the politics of Occupy were never really aimed at the rhetoric or politics of the dominant parties. It would be naive to simultaneously critique the major political parties as entirely beholden to corporate influence and then expect either of the two parties to respond to the dominance of corporate power.

However, Occupy did not just refuse the political parties because they were tainted, ruined by corporate influence. Ultimately Occupy was grounded on a fundamentally different idea of politics and a different idea of democracy, one based on direct participation rather than representation.

The occupations that sprang up from Lincoln Park to the renamed “Oscar Grant Plaza” were spaces of education, where people learned how to conduct assemblies and form consensus, as much as symbols of inequality. Occupy’s most radical idea was not just the critique of inequality, but also the idea that the people could determine their own individual and collective fate.

Where does all of this leave us a year later? As much as it could be argued that the occupations were absolutely essential for bringing together the disparate voices of discontent, from students burdened with debt to the homeless and unemployed, the connection of the movement with one singular tactic constrained its development.

The camps consumed a great deal of energy of Occupy as they became impromptu shelters for those who had fallen through society’s fraying safety net. The occupations also constrained the movement in the eyes of the media as the status of the camps symbolized the commitment to the cause.

This equation was not only cynical, as the media and politicians played a waiting game with winter, but it also set the bar rather high. It made camping in a park an odd litmus test for political convictions.

This logic dominated coverage, however, and it led to the conclusion that the eviction of occupations was the end of the movement. Occupy Maine continued to work on a series of issues long after the eviction, most notably organizing to defend another public space, Congress Square, against privatization. But these actions vanished from media attention.

Occupy also disappeared from public consciousness, lingering only in vague invocations of the 99 percent and the 1 percent that have become shorthand for talking about class in America.

Any obituary would be premature, however. The issues that prompted Occupy have not disappeared. The gap between the rich and the poor only appears to widen, the current elections are even more dominated by wealth, and a generation faces lives constrained by debt and unemployment.

More importantly, the people who participated in Occupy are still here, and have learned something and made connections. It remains to be seen if Occupy is an anomaly in American politics or the beginning of a long chapter.

Jason Read is an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Southern Maine.