10/13/2011 11:27 am ET | Updated Dec 13, 2011

Whither the Protest Occupations

Journalists and right wing pundits smirk. The Occupy Wall Street movement has no goals, they say. Or the goals are all over the place. There are no clear leaders, no spokesperson, no real strategy. The movement has as its core a bunch of middle class white college students -- many unemployed, hanger-on-ers, and without influence and connections. A rag-tag collection like this can't possibly make a political impact.

The pundits just don't get it. They are right that these clumps of students and their encampment followers, with all their energy and idealism, by themselves are not going to change anyone's mind on Wall Street or turn Congress around. But if we view them as the ignition rather than the motor, the whole picture changes.

As background, we have to take into account that for a long time the liberal/progressive/left community has been dormant, impotent, dispirited, frustrated, and very angry. A right wing take-over of sorts has happened. Obama had presented himself as a change-spirited purveyor of hope and won over scores of progressives. Their deep disappointment over his murky performance is profound and has left many in a state of emptiness and despair.

If the protest encampments can create the spark that brings this large and inherently powerful force to life, that can make a huge mark on the politics of the country. The unions are now joining in. Some progressive political advocacy entities are stirring. Grassroots action groups are becoming involved. Sympathetic Congressmen are beginning to get the courage to speak out. This a flexible and evolving situation and nobody knows where it will go. If it catches fire in this way, all the moaning by the pundits about goals or the amorphous organization of this vanguard group will, in the end, only reveal their ignorance and false perception.

The wide range of so-called goals we see on posters around the encampments can be misleading. The protesters in reality are revealing a diagnosis, or set of problems, rather than offering a single cure. You don't have to be a psychiatrist to see that we have a sick society and that the sickness is endemic. The main complaint focuses on the outrageous corporate greed of the famous 1 percent. But that ailment has tentacles that spread widely. Uncontrolled greed has created severe income inequality. The breakdown of the financial system. Outsourcing of manufacturing. Unemployment. Housing foreclosures. The curtailing of vital services to the middle class and poor. Devastation of the educational system. Staggering student loans carried by people who can't get jobs. The domination of corporate lobbyists over legislation. Political favors and corruption in government. Wars and incursions of imperialist intent.

The list goes on and is engraved on the forest of placards that the protesters carry. The range of poster pronouncements graphically mirrors the range of real problems that are crying out to be addressed. The young encampers simply don't want to live in a society like this. I defy the chiding pundits to distill a simple goal from our muddled economic and political predicament.

A likely scenario is that varied progressive organizations will join the student-initiated demonstrations and marches. Massive numbers, should they materialize, will signal the rebirth of a potent political left of center. There is unlikely to be either a takeover of the student initiative or the coalescence of a unified goal among this fractured group. Rather, reinvigorated elements of the progressive landscape, as is typical, will push their separate agendas focusing on jobs, or tax reform, housing, or medical care, regulatory oversight, lobbying restrictions, and the like.

Whether the occupation movement continues long-term or closes shop as its objectives are advanced by allied organizations, is an open question. The encampments, as a visible, public sign of discontent and struggle, are the shot that can set in motion a powerful progressive offensive. In that sense, it matters little what the occupiers choose as their main goal or their style of organization. Observers worry about that too much. This is a time to join and propel this call to action movement -- and to let it be itself -- rather than to dissect it to death.