I have been awed and inspired by the raw energy, passion and commitment on the streets of lower Manhattan these past several weeks by the Occupy Wall Street movement. These are folks of all shapes, sizes, ages, races, religions, social classes, education levels, the employed and the unemployed, union workers and workers of all types, both blue and white collar.
These protesters are not a bunch of ragtag hippie freaks who have nothing better to do. These are people just like you and me. People who are fed up with the state of the economy, with high unemployment, slow growth and corporate greed. People who are either out of work or fear they may be soon if things don't change. And it's change that they want. Finally, people in this country are taking to the streets, and it's not just in New York but in cities all around the country. I suspect the movement will grow and tens of thousands will soon become hundreds of thousands, and maybe even millions. They should be a great source of pride to us all.
What concerns me is the messaging, or perhaps the lack thereof. What I hope to see come out of this movement, and soon, is a very clear set of goals. Demands which can be both easily heard and understood in Washington. It's not enough to simply march in the streets. You have to know what you want. And you need to let your opponents know that in precise terms. President Obama, John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi have to clearly understand what it is that the movement is fighting for.
Imagine these politicians in a room together, watching the protests on TV and asking each other, "What do these people want? What do they want us to do?" Well, they wouldn't be asking those questions if every time they turned on their TV's they saw hundreds of thousands of marchers chanting "Jobs Bill! Jobs Bill! Jobs Bill!" If they heard "Jobs Bill NOW! Jobs Bill NOW!" Or, Bill to End Corporate Loopholes!" Or, "No Repeal of Dodd-Frank!" But I'm afraid this type of goal is not being demanded.
Instead, the messaging is currently a hodgepodge of fanciful pipe dreams akin to Miss America's "I'd like to create peace on Earth." Here's some quotes that MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan got from protesters:
"I am choosing to no longer participate in what I perceive to be an abusive relationship," said Occupier Lopi.
"Our goal to create a massive independent weapon of mass help! We are not intent on destruction. We are intent on confronting and fixing what we all know is a bought government." another occupier told him. "This is our shared moment to seize prosperity."
"Our nation is too busy growing debt, poverty, homelessness, wars, oil spills, global temperatures and inflation on everything we need -- like food, education and healthcare -- to slow down, stop and fix the problem," another named Goldi said.
"I'm here because I love my family, and want to protect them from the thief with the gun on the street to the thief with the pen behind the desk!" said Calvin Roy.
It's this sort of broad, idealistic and unrealistic mission that could soon turn Occupy Wall Street into a failure if it cannot get a clear, specific agenda out. It must tell Washington in no uncertain terms, clear terms, what it wants. Because it is action, and effecting real change, that is ultimately at the core of any successful protest movement. And that would be an incredible legacy for this amazing group of people.
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