I'm in love with the Occupy Movement. Having attended the first day of the October2011 sponsored occupation of Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C. and a meeting of the local group Occupy Springfield as well as watching and reading news of other gatherings around the country and the world, I am heartened by the extent to which this movement has stirred people to action. They have called their dissatisfaction to the world's attention, and the world has responded positively. Every world leader must now be aware that there is a powerful wave of discontent among the majority of the world's people. That should make knees knock in some places of power.
The question now is what is the next step? If all the movement can express is its discontent, it is unlikely to have a very deep impact. The disruption caused by the occupations has set the stage, but what is needed is a focal point around which these now disparate movements can operate.
The movement exists largely because of anger. People are angry at the rich and powerful 1% who have hoarded wealth in their own coffers at the expense of the 99% who have seen their buying power shrink over the past 40 years. Americans are also angry because their patriotic energies have been diverted into expensive, wasteful and unnecessary wars.
Anger is a powerful emotion that can provide valuable motivation, but if the movement is to achieve positive ends, that energy must be used in a positive manner. If the movement is to really accomplish anything beyond stirring unrest, it needs, as a starting point, to limit the scope of its outrage to a few issues it can impose on the present system and then expand those few into the plethora of problematic issues this country and world face.
For instance, in my area the anger has generated a call for the local "Occupy" group to confront the police over its "right" to use public places on their own terms rather than accepting rules like allowed hours of operation, etc. If the group accepts this as a valid way to protest, it will dissipate its energies and go in no positive direction. The movement will have morphed into a fight against park rules emplaced by representative government. If the movement removes its own impetus in this way, the other side wins because they have distracted the protestors from more vital purposes.
Unless the Occupy Movement influences the American political process by shifting the emphasis from empowering and enriching a small percentage of the population to enhancing the lives of 100% of the population, all the furor will have come to nothing. It is my conviction, too, that any significant change in the American system will have profound impact on the world. Regime change does indeed begin at home.
If that is an agreed upon goal, then it's reasonable to ask what the movement might do that will advance that goal and to evaluate every proposed action against that goal. It's also reasonable to recognize that the sea-change demanded by the primary objectives (or is that primary objections?) is national in scope. Occupy Movement members should certainly seek to find candidates for local office who accept and will act on the movement's philosophy, but this central goal can only be achieved on a national scale.
Another issue of great importance is time. The movement must ask itself whether a proposed action can advance desired objectives within the timeframe allowed by the present political system. The problem is endemic to our huge economic and political system. Given that the ultimate goal is a complete remake of the current system, it is overly optimistic to think that much change could be accomplished before the next presidential election. It is more likely that the movement could gather enough clout before November, 2012 to influence the platform of the existing parties. While it is much more likely that the Democratic Party platform will be drastically impacted by this kind of progressive action, it is not at all unrealistic to expect to have some impact on the Republican platform as well. After all, some Republicans holding national office have already endorsed the Occupy Movement's ideals, and any political party that would completely ignore the focused anger of 99% of the people would be on a fast road to the trashcan of history. This writer has no doubt that a longer term plan -- say twenty years (That's how long it took American colonists to move from declaring anger at the king to declaring independence.) -- will be necessary if the movement should decide to create another party to rival the two now in existence or to force one of the existing parties to accept all of our demands as its permanent platform. It's also realistic to recognize that Congressional and Presidential elections are not all that need to be influenced. The Supreme Court is currently just as corrupt as the Congress, and civil servants have been appointed over the last thirty years by right wing presidents intent on proving that the government is dysfunctional. Remedying these situations will call for a long term plan implemented over time.
The first objective though - to significantly influence the Democratic Party platform before the 2012 presidential election - can be accomplished. As evidence of that, one has only to look at the Tea Party's accomplishments in moving the Republican Party further right in less than two years between its inception in 2008 and the Congressional sweep in 2010. The Occupy Movement could do the same by forcing the Democratic Party or perhaps even the entire political spectrum further left between now and 2012.
What it would take is:
1. A simple, clear mission statement such as:
i. The mission of the Occupy Movement is to end lobby-induced governmental corruption, stop wasteful governmental spending, and end discrimination in economic policy and the administration of justice.
2. A clear statement of demands. The Tea Party didn't even have this. They accomplished their purpose just by saying they were fed up with business as usual. As a result of this lack of direction they have now been co-opted by special interests. The Occupy Movement could do more and protect itself at the same time by being more succinct and thus diverting co-option. This process would also prevent co-option by the "anarchist" element that advocates for disruption only. Here is a suggested list as a starting point:
i. Tax reform
ii. Social Security contribution reform