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Derek Shearer

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Memo to Occupy! How to Keep the Movement Alive, Spread the Message and Change the World

Posted: 10/12/11 04:15 PM ET

Two cheers for Occupy!

Abrazos from California to all those willing to take action and make a statement against the economic status quo and politics as usual. Your spirit and activism are cheering to those of us from the 60s generation who have not given up on reform in America.

You already have your critics from the right-wing Republican leadership to middle-of-the road commentators like David Brooks. Ignore them. You are more important than you know. A few progressive critics have made an important point: activism without a vision or a program ultimately will die out or be disappointed. Economic inequality in the US is outrageous, and Wall Street interests do heavily influence both political parties -- but being right about the situation does not mean that it will change. Your movement needs content -- and it needs dialogue. Here are a few modest suggestions:

  • Organize a national day of Popular Economics teach-ins, focused on economic inequality. Model it after Earth Day or the Vietnam Moratorium. Start on campuses, then take it to communities in civic centers, union halls, churches and schools. There are a number of progressive economists who would participate such as Joe Stiglitz and Paul Krugman (both Nobel Prize winning economists), James Galbraith, Barry Bluestone, Robert Reich, Martin Carnoy, Richard Parker, Richard Rothstein, Jeff Madrick -- and smart political scientists and journalists like Jacob Hacker, Michael Hirsh, John Judis, Caroline Heldman and Tom Edsall. They and many others would be happy to offer their analysis and expertise -- and they all speak economics in English.
  • Show the documentary Inside Job by Charles Ferguson. Put up screens in public parks and in front of city halls and have free showings of the film as part of your demonstrations. Make use of the film for Teach-In events in the spring as part of a public outreach strategy.
  • Circulate and discuss the New America Foundation's report, The Way Forward, reported on in the New York Times, Oct. 11. This is a serious, progressive plan to move the economy out of the doldrums. It is one example of an intellectual rallying cry for your movement, and an answer to the question: what are you for?
  • Give activists copies of what I call The Little White Book -- the paperback Mis-Measuring Our Lives -- Why GDP Doesn't Add Up by Joseph Stiglitz, Amartya Sen, and Jean-Paul Fitoussi, all world class economists, who explain why traditional economic statistics don't do justice to reality and what is important in our lives. Wave copies of the book in front of Congress and the Treasury in Washington, DC, to make the point that economics should put people's lives at its foundation -- and that there are practical ways to for the government to do that.
  • Actively support candidates like Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts and Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin who are running on economic reform platforms -- and support Barack Obama, but with qualifications (as I outlined in my Huffington Post piece, "Thinking About Obama," 9/12/11). And run your own candidates in state and local elections just as the Tea Party did. Many of the more liberal members of Congress got their start by running as anti-war candidates or pro-environment candidates in the 60s and 70s.
  • Make allies of artists, musicians, comedians, and the clergy
  • Already many of your Occupy sites have included improvised music and art. Reach out to more musicians and artists for songs and posters about economic inequality and justice and the power of Wall Street. Engage performers to put on local concerts. Ask local clergy to reflect on religion's stance on economic inequality. Consider a nationally televised concert for Economic Equality on the Mall in Washington, DC. I'll bet that you could persuade Lady Gaga (she has endorsed Obama) to appear with Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. No doubt Jon Stewart would be happy to be MC.

If you extend the life of your movement by adding content and reaching out to more people through Teach-ins and other forms of public dialogue, you will have a dramatic effect on the issues debated in the 2012 Presidential election. You already have had an impact, adding spine to Democrats in Congress and pushing the White House in a more progressive direction. You could also energize Obama to become a truly progressive President in his second term -- and you could build a movement which would live beyond and outside any one elected leader. At the very least, call on him now to appoint a Presidential commission on Inequality--its causes and solutions.

Feel free to check out copies of Economic Democracy, or A New Social Contract, books which I co-authored with Stanford economist Martin Carnoy, or even peruse the Clinton/Gore campaign platform, Putting People First, which I co-authored with Robert Reich and Ira Magaziner. You might find a few reform proposals which are still relevant.

It's a Fall Offensive to make my heart sing.