Likewise, in November, Dylan Byers reported that a Nexis search showed that the phrase "income inequality" was used less than 91 times in the media the week before the Occupy movement started, but got nearly 500 mentions the second week in November. And this month, Fred Shapiro, the associate librarian at Yale Law School, came out with his 6th annual list of the most notable political quotes of the year. Topping the list for 2011: "We are the 99 percent."
Then there was the editor of the conservative New Hampshire Union Leader, who used the following justification to endorse Newt Gingrich for the GOP nomination: "Gingrich is going to have a better time in the general election than Mitt Romney. I think it's going to be Obama's 99% versus the 1%, and Romney sort of represents the 1%." It seems unlikely that such a thought would have factored into a Republican endorsement last year.
But the most important change is in the conversation people are having around the country as Washington continues to fiddle -- a conversation in which they're asking fundamental questions about what our values are and whether these values are represented in our economy. While Washington debates whether to cripple the economy outright or just extend the slowly crippling status quo, those outside Washington are asking if there's a better way to organize a free market, capitalist system -- one that could be both more fair and more productive.
"The movement has triggered lots of important discussions about the balance between rich and poor, capital and labor, current and future generations, and the financial sector and the real economy," wrote Mohamed El-Erian, CEO of PIMCO on HuffPost. For El-Erian, the task now is to pivot from raising awareness to coming up with solutions. As Nicholas Kristof wrote in November, "as we move into an election year, I'm hoping that the movement will continue to morph into: Occupy the Agenda."
And, in fact, that's exactly what many are trying to do. Already there's an effort called "Occupy Our Homes," a national push to help deal with both homelessness and foreclosure by moving homeless families into empty foreclosed homes. And in a HuffPost piece by Molly O'Toole about where the movement goes from here, it was clear that the protesters are preparing to meet new challenges in the next year. "Though the [Zuccotti] raid physically scattered us, it also allows us the opportunity -- compels us, really -- to collect ourselves, re-evaluate and refocus, using the experience of these miraculous months," said 27 year-old activist John Friesen. Patrick O'Black, a truck driver from Morristown, N.J. was just as determined: "People aren't going to stop being upset about the current state of affairs in this country. Why would you possibly sit there and let things get worse?"
As we head into the New Year, and the media continue to get sucked into the vortex of Washington, we should remember that it's what's going on outside Washington that's the real story.
Maybe we need to take Rick Perry's suggestion of making Congress part-time seriously in order to free up some media oxygen that can be used to focus on the real solutions -- the real creativity and innovation -- being summoned to meet our challenges around the country. And what about a dedicated C-SPAN channel devoted entirely to the conversations and solutions outside of our formal political system?
"Everywhere this year, people have complained about the failure of traditional leadership and the fecklessness of institutions," writes Rick Stengel in Time. "But leadership has come from the bottom of the pyramid, not the top."
That's the story of this year. And let's hope it continues to be the story of next year, too.
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