Despite the predictions of Bill O’Reilly and the wishes of Mayor Bloomberg and other One Percenters, the Occupy movement is not going away. It’s too late for that– the idea and the message are out and can no longer be contained. And it should be clear to everyone, the critical problems that gave rise to Occupy Wall Street are not going away anytime soon.
So what is the future of Occupy? Ask a hundred people and you’ll probably get 110 opinions and at least an equal number of suggestions for moving to the next phase.
Here are some critical questions about the past, present and future of the Occupy movement, and for whatever they’re worth, my answers:
What is the Occupy Movement?
Occupy Wall Street started on Sept. 17, 2011, inspired in large part by the Arab Spring events that took place in a number of countries in North Africa and the Middle East, including the occupation of Tahrir Square in Egypt. Considerable praise and encouragement for these foreign demonstrators came from all over the U.S., excited to see oppressed citizens seeking democracy, freedom and a say in how they are governed.
Image: Talking Points Memo
While the Arab Spring resulted in occasional success, economic conditions in the U.S. and most of the rest of the world worsened. As a result of the economic collapse triggered by Wall Street speculators (who have yet to be called to account for their role in the meltdown), Americans have continued to lose jobs, homes and savings. Economic conditions, here and abroad, remain bleak .
Occupy Wall Street set off a spontaneous groundswell of activism from large segments of American society, especially young people, many of whom were racking up huge college loan debts with limited prospects for finding jobs to pay them off. The movement spread rapidly across the country and around the globe.
What does the Occupy Movement Stand For?
Not every occupier will agree on everything, but it is safe to say that the overwhelming majority of occupiers understand that the richest one percent of Americans have rigged the system against the rest of us, defined by the movement as the 99%. Occupiers resent that Wall Street, which caused the economic meltdown, got “bailed out,” while the rest of us got “sold out”(in the words of the Occupy chant).
Meanwhile, Congress, in cooperation with the corporate media, followed a different agenda. They jumped on the government debt crisis bandwagon, seeking ways to cut taxes on millionaires and billionaires, and pare down the budget deficit on the backs of the country’s least advantaged.
Polls demonstrate that large majorities of Americans feel differently. They want the rich to pay more taxes, and for Congress to resist cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Yet politicians of both major parties, bought and paid for by wealthy special interests, continue to pass laws favorable to the One Percent.
Does OWS Want to Overthrow Capitalism?
Occupy is not anti-capitalist, but condemns the destructive form of crony, monopolistic capitalism that has a chokehold on the American economy.
Here are some other things the Occupy movement is not: violent, destructive, un-American, anarchist, Marxist, or crazy. Some individuals might be, but they do not represent the Occupy movement.
Because the movement is large and inclusive, there will be individuals who will do crazy, radical, violent activities that invalidate the entire movement in the eyes of the intellectually lazy. Some of the worse behavior is by people with their own agenda, and some may even be part of a purposeful effort by Occupy enemies to discredit the movement, which steadfastly supports non-violent behavior.
Is the Economic and Political System Really That Broken?
The wealth disparity between the rich and poor has been accelerating for years in the United States and is the largest since 1928, just prior to the start of the Great Depression, and currently the widest of any other developed nation. The top one percent own 40 percent of America’s wealth, and 24 percent of the income (up from nine percent in 1976).
The wealth gap has gotten so extreme the 400 richest Americans have more wealth than the bottom half (over 300 million people). The latest mind-numbing statistic? Thanks to a favorable tax rate (15%), the top one-tenth of one percent are now earning half of all capital gains. In contrast, 46 million Americans live in poverty, among them 16 million children, the highest number in nearly fifty years. And it’s getting worse.
But our elected leaders work in a corrupt culture of legalized bribery, in which thousands of lobbyists fork over financial rewards from corporate interests to ensure that Congress does their bidding. The 2010 Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court swung the door wide open, allowing corporations free rein to spend as much as they want to buy the candidates of their choice. The age-old democratic principle of “one man, one vote” is now an anachronism.
Must the Occupy Movement Occupy?
Occupying public property can be illegal, inconvenient, disruptive and uncomfortable. For these reasons, many sympathetic observers would like to see occupiers move to an empty building or off the beaten path, as well as work within the conventional political process to accomplish their goals. Occupiers instinctively know better. The American political system has become toothless and futile, and effectively controlled by the One Percent.
Only by occupying public space can the movement draw attention to itself, show affinity with other Occupy movements, educate the public, occasionally fight battles against heavy-handed police tactics, and make sure the powers-that-be know Occupy is in it for the long haul. Only by occupying can the movement thrive and grow to its fullest potential.
What has OWS Accomplished?
When it comes to changing laws and gaining political clout, the Occupy movement has not accomplished a lot. But they have achieved at least one significant victory. Prior to Occupy Wall Street, the Tea Party agenda of smaller government, deregulation (the very things that caused the economic meltdown), and the urgency of bringing down the national debt dominated the political discussion.
When Occupy Wall Street sprung up in September, the corporate media did its best to ignore the protesters in Zuccotti Park. But when the police tried to break up the campers, OWS became too big to ignore. Suddenly the message of Wall Street greed and 99% need jumped to the forefront. Meanwhile the Tea Party message faded to the background, with the exception of right-wing media, and Republican presidential debates.
Where Are the Occupy Leaders and Demands?
The Occupy movement is unfamiliar and unconventional, which disturbs its potential allies nearly as much as its opponents. Many older, traditional protesters find it hard to grasp a movement without a leader or specific demands. Some groups or interests would love to co-opt this burgeoning movement but the occupiers have been vigilant in preventing that scenario ( Five Sure-fire Ways to Drive the Right Wing Crazy).
Occupy is a grass-roots, bottom-up mass movement of mostly young people who have found a voice and are effectively using it. This frustrates its opponents, who find it hard to discredit and demonize an OWS figurehead who doesn’t exist, or to attack a demand that hasn’t been expressed. But so far it has worked, judging by the numbers and the energy.
There Will Be Demands Eventually, Right?
Maybe. Or requests, or wants, or some sort of action plan. But like OWS itself, it will have to evolve from the ground up, from the mostly young people who have discovered the American Dream to be an empty slogan, and life in this country to be a harder slog than Americans have had to deal with in at least the last sixty years.
If they asked me (they haven’t), I would propose a minimum of objectives that revolve around the ideas that virtually everyone involved in Occupy can agree on: the widening wealth disparity in this country, and the lack of economic and political fairness and opportunity for the majority of Americans. To accomplish these goals, the political system would have to be totally restructured to take private money out of the process, for it is because of its financial clout that the top 1% has been able to maintain its dominance. Changing that will be no easy task, for sure, and it will be a long process..
But it is the young people who have seized upon this moment in history who will make the decision about what they want to see happen. And hopefully, whatever evolves, will sweep across this land and set in motion an unstoppable wave of change. We desperately need to restore the promise of a once great nation and give this generation real reasons to say they are proud to be Americans.
Will OWS Be Successful?
I hope so, but hope alone won’t do it. Much will depend on how Occupy reacts to the pushback from the powerful interests who control this country. Much will depend on the kind of support Occupiers get from the frustrated and confused average American. And much depends on how hard the protesters are willing to work and occupy in their effort to recapture the American Dream from the one percent who currently own it.
The Occupy movement will be difficult to suppress. If we allow it the space and time to evolve, it may just succeed in changing the world for the better.