Commentators who declare the Occupy movement a failure underestimate the value of protest in a democracy and fail to acknowledge how the Occupy movement has already influenced public and political discourse.
The Occupy movement is following the same trajectory from the streets toward public policy that was traveled by other significant people's movements like the Women's Suffrage movement of the late 19th, early 20th century and the African-American Civil Rights movement of the late '50s and '60s. It is premature to dismiss Occupy's impact on public policy after only one year. Occupy Wall Street, which began September 17, 2011 in Zuccotti Park in New York City, spread rapidly to other cities, and has moved into the nation's opinion pieces and editorials, into government resolutions (The Los Angeles City Council became one of the first governmental bodies in the United States to adopt a resolution supporting the Occupy movement on October 11, 2011), into debates and arguments in the halls of legislation and the judiciary, and is currently impacting the rhetoric of the presidential election.
As CNN.com's Stephen Zunes points out, President Obama is running on a broad, populist platform, "decrying unfair tax laws," and depicting Mitt Romney as "the quintessential representative of the 1%." Even Mitt Romney has responded to the movement of "the 99%" by trying to align himself with a larger percentage of the American population than the 1 percent, identifying himself with the 53 percent "who pay taxes" (leaked video of Romney discussing the laziness of the 47 percent "who don't pay federal income tax.") However, until Romney releases all his tax records we will not know much about his contribution to the public coffers.
A year ago, income inequality and tax fairness were far from central to political debate. After the Occupy movement began, billionaire investor Warren Buffet made headlines when he revealed that his taxes were lower than his secretary's. "I have never had it so good," he told ABC News. "What has happened in recent years, we were told a rising tide would lift all boats, but the rising tide has lifted all yachts." President Obama invited Buffet and his secretary, Bianna Golodryga to his State of the Union address where he used their example to decry tax inequality in America. Obama said the ultra-rich should pay 30 percent of income in federal taxes -- a proposal now referred to as the "Buffet Rule." "I just feel like an average citizen who needs a voice, said Bosanek. "Everybody in our office is paying a higher tax rate than Warren." Warren rebutted charges made by Republican leaders that he was instigating class warfare saying, "If this is a war, my side has the nuclear bomb. We have K Street... We have Wall Street. Debbie doesn't have anybody. I want a government that is responsible to the people who got the short straw in life."
No, we don't have tax reform yet with Republicans insisting that low taxes on the rich benefit the economy at the same time they accuse Obama of presiding over a failed economy while taxes on the rich remain at a historical low. We don't have a Supreme Court ruling overturning Citizen's United despite a valiant effort by Montana's Attorney General Steve Bullock who challenged that ruling before the Supreme Court on behalf of the State of Montana. There has not been an overhaul of the laws and regulations that allowed the unchecked greed of Wall Street to nearly bring our economy to a collapse, and campaign finance reform doesn't appear to be on the horizon.
But it is too early to dismiss the potential for real policy impacts from the Occupy Movement. The other significant people's movements accomplished their policy goals over decades. We currently have a totally dysfunctional Congress with one party refusing to reach any compromise with the president's party. This impasse is not permanent, and voters will surely tire of the Republican party's partisan obstruction of legislation that the majority of the people support.
Thanks to the public debate inspired by the Occupy movement, most Americans now believe that corporations should NOT have the rights of people, that democracy fails when policy is determined by the highest bidder, and a large majority of Americans favor tougher regulation of Wall Street. Policy reform will follow from the will of the people. It's not time to stop the protests, but year one of the movement is a success because its ideals have captured the attention of the American people and our representatives.
Most significantly, the Occupy call for fairness in taxes, elections (people vs. PAC power), and banking practices have become central to the political debate in the upcoming presidential election and other races. This election should be a referendum on the Occupy movement, on citizen's rights vs. Citizens United. The popular and electoral vote should go to the Democrats, expressing allegiance with the people's protest unless Republicans can thwart the majority through restricting access to voting among the poor and marginalized people of America.
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