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Madeleine M. Kunin Headshot

Occupy Congress

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There will be no more sleepovers in public spaces for Occupy Wall Street. The tents and camp stoves have been picked up and carted away -- gone. But the impact of this upstart political movement remains. The voices of students, union members, the disenchanted, the disenfranchised, the angry, and the ever hopeful have entered our public conversation.

When we mention the 1 percent and the 99 percent, everybody now knows what we are talking about. It's part of our vocabulary. How quickly these numbers jumped from the sidelines to the center. I first heard them from Carol Shea Porter, former Congresswoman from New Hampshire. Fighting for the 99 percent was her campaign theme. I thought she was on to something, but I suspect even she, had no idea that fighting for the 99 percent would become the mantra for a new grass roots movement.

The wildfire spread of the Occupy movement, both here and abroad, amazed us. It touched a nerve of discontent with the status quo. The huge disparities in income growth between lower, middle and upper income groups offended our sense of fairness. The Occupy movement succeeded in expressing a general feeling of discontent that many Americans have felt building up over the last several years. We had no way to express it. Occupy enabled us to let off steam. The result is: "We're not going to take it anymore."

What "it" was -- that we're not going to take -- continues to be debated. Is "It" high student loan debts, is "It", new anti-union laws, is "It", joblessness, is "It" global warming? There is no single message connecting the movement. But that may not be entirely bad, for the short term.

But what about the long term? Could Occupiers shape an agenda that would be a counterweight to the Tea Party? Should they also support and defeat candidates?

I believe it is time for the Occupiers to focus. If there is one issue, that cuts across all the others -- it is need to curb the power of money to influence politics. Money often determines not only who gets elected, but what gets done. Which voices do lawmakers listen to, the banks or home owners, coal companies, or asthma sufferers, the CEOs or the unemployed?

Without putting the brakes on out of control campaign contributions from individuals and corporations -- it will be business as usual, with 1 percent of Americans pulling the strings. To give power back to 99 percent of Americans, we need a grassroots campaign for a constitutional amendment to reverse recent Supreme Court decisions on limiting campaign contributions. It's time for Occupy Wall Street to morph into Occupy Congress.

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