First off, let me say that I do not disagree with the end goal of the Occupy movement (as I understand it), to increase equality between the top 1% of the US and the other 99%. That being said, I have many criticisms of the Occupy movement, but I see hope nevertheless. Let me explain:
-Economic hardships breed political movements, the most recent and well talked about being the Tea Party. As much as those participating in the Occupy movement would reject the title that they are a “left Tea Party” both movements stem from the same basic ideals- that the economy is failing and that it is up the people to solve it, not the government. The inspiring goals can and are uniting disparate factions, but the method in solving issues is quite different. The major disagreement arises in the basic philosophical difference that the market corrects itself vs. the market is inherently unreliable and needs outside actors to ensure prosperity and fairness (Classical vs. Keynesian Economics). As inspiring as the phrase “We are the 99%” is, a huge portion of that 99% will never agree on the “nuts and bolts” of a solution.
-Given the superficial similarities, a comparison to the Tea Party can be seen as a helpful, instructional template for the Occupy movement. The Tea Party began with incensed protests over tax rates and a feeling that their voice was not being heard. Their movement continued protesting, bringing in thousand and thousands, for a period before forming political groups and selecting leaders. Those political groups began to utilize their large, active followers into concrete political action. We then ended up with the 2010 election, filled with many far right “Tea Party Candidates.” Granted, most of those Tea Party nominates were unable to garner the independent/moderate votes and thus lost the general election. But despite many of those losses, following the 2010 Midterms, the Tea Party has garnered actual political power and a voice. Which leads to…
-Barack Obama. Some of the anger in the Occupy movement is directed towards the government, including Congress’ and Barack Obama’s inaction. There is anger directed towards Congress as well as at President Obama for his lack of effort and success in fixing the economy and eliminating the excesses of Wall Street. As someone who worked on his campaign and flew across the country for his inauguration, I will agree with the sentiment that I wish he had done more in regards to the economy. But there is an obvious axiom of politics, “Politicians represent the people.” The truth is, over the last 2ish years, the Tea Party has taken the megaphone of public opinion and shouted against regulation and government action. Obama has bent his will to public opinion, or more accurately the people who spoke the loudest and got the votes. Which leads to my central point, the title of this post..
-Occupy the Ballot Box. Thomas Jefferson is believed to have said “Every generation needs a new revolution.” He believed the tree of liberty should be refreshed by the blood of tyrants, an extreme statement to be sure. Yes, the people in the Occupy movement are not advocating anything as extreme as spilling the blood of tyrants. But important to keep in perspective is that in a democracy with a legitimate democratic system (as opposed to countries like Egypt and Iran, where democracy is/was a mockery), your voice is your vote. Without fail, throughout the history of the nation young people have been the least participatory electorate in all elections. But paradoxically they have most often been those taking to the streets expressing their opinion. Why? If the Occupy movement can form into a coherent political view and group it will be able to make changes, just as the Tea Party has done. The best thing the Occupy movement can do is reverse the gradual tide of American Conservatism over the last half century by bringing some balance to the spectrum. As the media loves to point out, there is no “single idea” from the movement. But the overall idea that is gathering followers seems to be the overwhelming belief the share income in the US is wrong. Organizing politically to fix this may be easier said than done.
- The Occupy movement does not have a single leader at present, relying on group meetings and the passing along of information from person to person. The media critiques this point as one of the major failure of the movement. The lack of leader(s) does have its benefits as the diffusion of power is the most surefire way to prevent power grabbing and abuse. But at some point, all populist movements must calm down and find a leader if they are to survive. People have always had disparate ideas and solutions to problems, but unless they can band together for an idea that hope becomes bickering over solutions and all that energy and hope will sizzle out. I see opportunity for great change, but the trajectory it is on currently has given me serious doubts.
-Lessons from history. Those involved in the Occupy movement must be careful to avoid the mistakes of their progressive forebears. If the movement can solidify into a forcible political group, it could initiate the sweeping changes it hopes for and help the economy for the better. But if the movement begins to alienate part of the populations NOT out marching and occupying, instead of making a real change for the good of the “99%,” it could split left leaning people, push moderates to the right, destroying the electoral power of the left and clearing the way for conservative thinking and big business politics. As a student of history, I understand and believe that this has happened before and it will happen again. Let’s look at the 1960′s in the United States. The radicalism of the 1960′s may conjure romantic ideals of freedom and fighting “the man”, but forgets the biggest outcome of 1968- President Nixon. The jubilant (mostly student) protestors of the late 60′s were fired up to support far left causes and turned against their Democratic president for his support of Vietnam. This caused a far left challenge which split the Democratic base and paved the way for the wildly un-charasmatic Nixon to seize the presidency. The culmination of these protests came at Kent State where 4 students protesting were shot dead by the National Guard. But the most striking fact? 51% of Americans blamed the students! The anti-war movement lost any popular support and Nixon was re-elected.
I do not mean to imply in ANY way that the Occupy movement is at this point. If the movement can stay on the correct, non-violent, agreeable side of that very thin line, and keep the outpouring of public support, the future is bright. But huge arrests of protestors, as just as the cause may seem, alienate as much as they inspire. For example, Monday’s arrest of 100 protestors by BPD may seem unjust and illegal, but from the literature and press releases by BPD and the City of Boston, it seems that the protestors moved to another part of the park that they did not have permission to occupy and were removed. Unjust? Maybe, but the protestors were still breaking the law. I hope and implore that the protestors will resist the Demagoguery that has ruined political dialogue. The insistence that “Wall Street,” is behind all our woes is an easy argument to make but the placement of blame on an abstract institution is not fair, or even correct. Here is a story of a man I met this summer who used to work in mortgage backed securities. He was, as those camped out in the parks would describe, one of the “1%.” That was until the mortgage backed securities collapsed. His huge income, multiple properties, a small business chain, all disappeared. He and his family were forced to move, scale down and change their whole life. Was he part of the 1%? Yes. Would he agree with many of the protestors that the reckless actions taken by finance industries should be stopped? You betcha. As hard as it may be, it is vitally important to remember that every institution, from the “Banks,” “The Fed,” “Wall Street,” “The Media” and the police are made up of people, all of whom wish this economic downturn had been avoided. It is precisely this Demagoguery that has poisoned the rhetoric in politics, most politicians succumbing to at least an extent of it.
So please, please, please drop your signs, pick up a piece of paper, collect emails, find a leader and do the most patriotic of all American activities- Vote.
But please, please, please prove my views wrong. Prove that the movement can succeed because despite my seeming pessimism, I hope to live in an America with true equality.