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Jess Coleman Headshot

It's Time to Occupy Congress

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Just minutes ago, I walked by Zuccotti Park as I do every day on my way home from school. As I have watched the daily progression of the Occupy Wall Street movement, it has become increasingly clear how misleading and insidious the city's response has been. Fortunately, the public has seemed to catch on as more and more attention has been geared towards the oppressive measures taken by the New York Police Department. While Occupy Wall Street certainly seems to have fizzled down a bit, the city has once again shined light on the movement, giving protesters a momentous chance to engrave this movement in history.

First off, it is important to note how misguided the efforts by Mayor Michael Bloomberg have been. In a statement released on November 15, when the protesters were ordered out of Zuccotti Park, Bloomberg noted that "the park has been taken over by protestors, making it unavailable to anyone else." Moreover, he claimed that "the occupation was coming to pose a health and fire safety hazard to the protestors and to the surrounding community."

It is true that, prior to November 15, Zuccotti Park was mainly occupied by protesters. But the city's response has made it even worse. Every day during the protests, I walked through the park from one corner to another without issue. Since November 15, however, the entire perimeter has been barricaded off, on both sides of the sidewalk, except for a few entrances. To get through the park, one must go to one of those entrances and get checked by a mob of officers. If anything, Zuccotti Park has become less available to the public.

And I am not quite sure how Occupy Wall Street posed a fire hazard. Despite a few generators that were quickly confiscated, there have been no problems within the park in terms of safety. The health concerns are real, but could have been easily avoided had the city given authorization to the many private companies that offered to pay for and maintain Porta Potties.

Still, no one can deny that it is, in fact, illegal to sleep in a public park. I do not deny that the city had legitimate legal justification for evacuating protesters. However, those justifications were thrown out the window when Bloomberg cited fire and safety hazards and other ridiculous factors that clearly demonstrated the city's agenda to dissolve the movement.

And by doing so, the city not only opened itself up to immense criticism, but it also revived the movement and prompted even more discussion. Had the city left the protests alone -- as they had for two months -- the movement would have terminated on its own as the cold weather moved in. However, by authorizing abusive and unnecessary police tactics, the city has given protesters a remarkable opportunity to take this movement to the next level.

Without question, the Occupy Wall Street movement has already accomplished its goal, if not more. The top one percent of Americans are now demonized, and people are now more willing to ask questions and have discussions about income inequality and greed. Indeed, when Republican presidential candidates are grilled on these issues at every debate, the impact of Occupy Wall Street cannot go unnoticed.

But protesters should not stop there. It is time they start a new movement: Occupy Congress.

Now that the Occupy Wall Street message is well known and better understood, it is time protesters make it a defining political issue. Just as conservatives have made taxes and abortion disqualifying issues, liberals should now do the same with issues of tax cuts to the wealthy and spending cuts. Protesters should lobby for political candidates that support their agenda, and viscously question those that do not.

Throughout history, that has been the method that works. Prohibition was only accomplished when the Anti-Saloon League was created and ensured that those opposing Prohibition were thrown out of office. Currently, we have a stalemate on the issue of taxes because Grover Norquist and others have demonized any Republican candidate who shows a willingness to raise taxes.

I am not saying that liberals adopt the "my way or the highway" agenda. I am saying that Occupy Wall Street protesters should pack their bags, declare victory, and prepare some tough questions for any political candidate that undermines their goals.

Wall Street gets it. It's time to Occupy Congress.