Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How Occupy Can Avoid Losing The War

If the movement that is Occupy Wall Street, and its offshoots in dozens of other cities, are interested in avoiding the dustbin of history, the clearing of Zuccotti Park was the biggest favor the NYPD could have done for it.  While the NYPD and other police departments across the country are acting with brute force, pepper spray and hand saws, occupying public space without any organization, organizing principles or demands was going to drain the movement of its energy anyway.  That winter was quickly setting in, crime had been reported at various sites and the media was beginning to lose interest in the "occupy" storyline should be viewed as a boon to the movement, not its death knell.

Our country, whether the Occupy folks like it or not, is built on the political process, and the political process culminates at the ballot box, not in a park in New York City, Oakland or Seattle.  The Occupy movement must now direct its attention and energy to mobilizing at every level from local school boards to the election of our next President.  If Occupy wants to have its voice heard, it must define, through cogent policy, what "the 99%" stand for, what income equality should look like and how it can be achieved.  While the Zucotti Park demonstration stretched into its second month, tens of millions of dollars were being spent trying to impact the shape of the legislative compromise most people believe Congress will eventually reach to trim entitlements and (possibly) raise taxes.  Hard bitten political types understand how battles (and wars) are won, and while protest has its place, if you are not actively involved in the political and legislative process, your energy and effort will go for naught.

The sharp relief that governmental action toward the Occupy movement should show to the protesters is that the only way to make a difference is through the system.  Any legal advisor worth his or her salt would have told the Occupy folks a long time ago that the law is pretty well settled that overnight camping is not a form of expression that is entitled to unfettered protection.  The endgame should have been well known to decision makers some time ago and while the visuals associated with the clearing of these encampments has not been pretty, it was inevitable.  What should give people who support the general concept of highlighting income inequality is that there does not seem to be any intellectual underpinning or 2.0 strategic thinking that should have occurred before the protesters were shooed away.

Now, with the major protests essentially shut down, it is easy for the media to write the obituary for the movement.  Even before the final move was made by the NYPD, a subtle shift in the media narrative had occurred.  Crimes, both serious and petty, had been reported, little by little dissenters to the long-term presence of the protesters were voiced and, as is inevitable in our media, their eye began to wander, whether it was the awful child molestation allegations at Penn State or the re-appearance of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, at some point, without a new angle, any story will be shunted aside and Occupy was no different. 

If the Occupy movement wants to outlive its ignominious ending in Zuccotti Park, it must mobilize, organize and become political, overtly, through the creation of an agenda that articulates its ideas, voter registration, and fundraising.  Further, Occupy must identify its leaders and have them out in the public consistently, on the television talking head shows that dominate cable news, radio and the Web, drilling home its message.  Finally, as unsavory as it may be (or sound), Occupy must take a page from the Tea Party and put up its own candidates in the primary season (or vocally support candidates who support their positions) and in general elections at both the state and federal level to increase the chances that the grievances they have aired and the attention they have given to the growing inequality in our country does not go unheard.  If they do not, their moment in the sun will quickly slip from our collective memory and nothing will change.

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