With “Occupy…” protests sprouting up across the country, media outlets, political entities and groups within the greater movement are speaking on behalf of the movement at large. They’ve outlined OWS’s demands, its motivation, its ideologies and its demography. In response, images and statements like this one are making the rounds on social networks, rejecting any labels or definition. Some want the movement to renounce any ties to existing liberal institutions, arguing that mainstream leftism is irredeemably marred by corporate influence. This rejection of liberal organizations by those to their left is nothing new: a certain distrust of organized bodies within the system runs strong in the far ends of both sides of the political spectrum. Of course, this photo doesn’t represent the official stance of the movement, largely because such a stance doesn’t exist. But when the group does make a decision on the relationship with the Democratic Party & other powerful liberal groups, they shouldn’t be dismissive in the name of ideology.
When a forum member at Occupy Wall St.’s website posted a proposed list of demands, it only demonstrated how poorly suited a protest group is for making policy recommendations. Policy goes the way of the middle, not the extrema. If Occupy Wall St. hopes to represent the 99% of Americans they claim to, they can’t capitulate to the loudest voices on the far-left, or they risk relegating the public perception of their movement to just another angry young liberal protest. Simply put: you can’t expect America to believe that the rage is unique this time when you’re using the same signs and slogans you held up during the Bush administration. No, what Occupy Wall St. needs is to recognize their role in changing America. Just as the Tea Party did, they have to make Americans angry, and change the nature of the zeitgeist. Then, let people speak with their ballots.
Of course, a main concern of the movement is undue influence on the electoral process by large corporations. But remember that the only thing those campaign dollars can do is buy candidates more ad-time. The way to change this is simple: Occupy Wall St. must make the incentive for candidates & elected officials to reject corporate interests greater than the incentive to accept the strings that come with massive amounts of campaign dollars. When the cries of protesters ring louder in the ears of moderates in the ballot box than the ad they heard the night before on television, actual change will start. Until then, Occupy Wall St. has to stay relevant by rejecting radical control over their image and staying open to working with other liberal groups, capitalizing on those groups’ existing credibility.
During the last election, Tea Party candidates like Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle proved that pushing the radical messages of their movement would have disastrous consequences (of course, their award-winning personalities didn’t help matters). Avoiding radicalism is especially important right now: with “class warfare” rhetoric dominating the airwaves of conservative media, a popular movement calling for radical policy changes will only solidify that message in the minds of moderates. I understand that “incrementalism” leaves a bad taste in the mouths of many devout leftists, but so too should ignoring the lessons from recent history and playing into conservative fear-mongering.
This may fly in the face of many on the ground, camped out in the park demanding change. The idea of “toning it down” reeks of disingenuousness, and perhaps rightly so. But like Otto von Bismarck said, “politics is the art of the possible.” The message of the photo above is loud-and-clear: we’re not going to be co-opted by existing institutions. But outright rejection isn’t the answer. Instead, Occupy Wall St. has to do the co-opting by bringing into its folds as many allies as it can handle, and truly representing the 99%. It’s easy to stand on the outside and vaguely demand change. The hard part is actually changing things.
Edit: I made my display name less ambiguous after the first comment pointed it out.