Over the last three weeks, I have walked through the Occupy movements of Boston, Philadelphia, New York, and Washington. The predominately young protestors shared their frustrations with me. They are fed up with the status quo and the direction our country is headed.
They just want a job and a house. They want to live knowing their kids will be better off than they are. They want a country where they feel the people are both heard and included. And so they have taken to the streets, because they think the conventional method of navigating the system is an abysmal failure. We all know the story -- but what I want to know is the ending?
The occupy movements are starting to overstay their welcome. People complain that they are smelly, noisy, and displeasing to the eye. Gone is the "Oh, it's so great that you are protesting." The new wind has swept in the "when are you finally going to leave?" But as Ann Colman at Occupy Boston told me, "The idea is going to continue on even if the encampment doesn't."
If we accept the premise that the Occupiers are in it for the long run, that leaves me with two foreseeable results for how the protests will end. One is through a forceful removal.
I would be ashamed if this happened. These are peaceful protestors who are out expressing their right to freedom of speech. What kind of message do we, the United States of America, send to the rest of the world and countries like Syria, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia if we evict our own protestors? This is not the answer.
The end to Occupy Wall Street is in a policy change. But the million-dollar question begs a concept, or idea, or approach, to focus on realistically changing. It asks, how can a scattered, decentralized Occupy movement unite together?
John Cassidy of The New Yorker blogged about Mike Konczal's most recent research. Konczal measured the words that were mentioned the most on the "We Are the 99%" tumblr blog. He found that, "The ten most popular words were: job, debt, work, college, pay, student, loan(s), afford, school, [and] insurance." Granted, this study is biased because students are the demographic most likely to post online, it still highlights the overall theme that I heard from the Occupiers. As Occupier Collin Wolf put it to me, "What we thought was the American Dream is not working out."
These grievances struck a very similar tone to the message I heard last week in New York City as an Opportunity Nation Scholar. Opportunity Nation is a campaign of Be The Change Inc. -- a non-profit that has united over 200 major national organizations to form a bi-partisan answer to how we can increase economic opportunity and mobility in the United States.
This campaign was launched last Friday at the Opportunity Nation Summit, co-convened by the AARP Foundation, United Way, Time Magazine, and the Ford Foundation. It featured Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Fareed Zakaria, Serena Williams, Dr. Cornel West, Pastor Rick Warren, Arianna Huffington, and Senator Michael Benet, among other big names.
Opportunity Nation is also responsible for this week's Time Magazine cover story on moving up in America. Listening to the speakers, the coalition members, and my fellow Opportunity Leaders and Scholars, I couldn't help but flash back to the conversations I had in Zuccotti Park and on the steps of the Philadelphia City Hall.
Opportunity Nation is the answer to Occupy Wall Street. It is the influential expressing the same frustration over our social, education, and economic systems that the "99% percent" are rallying to reform. But instead of just expressing their frustration, they are working to solve it.
Along with the Center for American Progress, Heritage Foundation, Brookings Institution, and their 200 coalition members, Be The Change Inc. have drafted an 81-page policy proposal.
It highlights the sentiment being heard across the country. The draft document addresses issues like early yield lifetime gains, youth opportunity pathways, workforce training, and the earned income tax credit.
The proposal emphasizes the realistically attainable solutions to the problem of economic opportunity in the United States. The proposal isn't written for conservatives or democrats, it isn't written for corporations or unions, it isn't written for the young or the old, it is written for America by all of those groups.
As one Occupier in Zuccotti Park told me, "My American dream is when the 99 percent come together and take a stand." That stand is Opportunity Nation.