Over the last month and a half, the world's attention has been transfixed on the Occupy movement unfolding on Wall Street and around the world. In our own communities of San Francisco and especially Oakland, we've witnessed the creation of large-scale public encampments, major city-wide demonstrations, and violent confrontations with police, all to call attention to the institutionalized financial inequality typified in the ominous figures of the 99% and the 1%. And while the movement has clearly been successful in raising awareness around a grave injustice, the biggest criticism of the Occupy protests is that they haven't spelled out the part of the plan that leads from pitching a tent in public space to manifesting a financially just, ecologically sane society. That such a roadmap has been slow to appear can surely be chalked up to both the complex nature of the challenges we are facing and the cumbersome process of consensus decision making, which at times seems to be the only thing this movement can agree on. When that roadmap does manifest, it will be less likely to feature some of the bolder actions suggested so far, like "Remove All Money from Politics" or "Eat the Rich," and more likely to call for more subtle steps like "Start a Local Currency" or "Talk to Your Neighbors."
Another of the tactics sure to emerge from the Occupy movement will be to organize political voting power, for while it is true that much of the very nature of the Occupy movement is borne out of disillusion with our political system, even the most anarchistic amongst the demonstrators will eventually come up against the simple fact that creating such a profound societal shift requires the use of laws and, under our current democratic system, elected officials to write those laws. And while it is true that national politics is a near hopeless mixture of dichotomous perspectives and outright corruption, the realm of local politics offers a real possibility to effect change. We aren't likely to get Congress to pass a law capping our national debt at 3% of our GDP, but we can make sure we balance our budget every year in San Francisco. We aren't likely to pass a federal law demanding all cars get 35 miles per gallon, but we can require that in California. Local politics matters tremendously to the larger goal of closing the gap between the 99% and the 1%, both in the broad sense of building a better society in the place you live and in the narrow sense of creating a climate where you are permitted to demonstrate without the threat of violence and imprisonment.
If affecting local political elections is a next step for the Occupy movement, we may very well have a bellwether event here in San Francisco tomorrow. While our local Occupy SF hasn't exactly led the Occupack, very few general populations measure up to ours in terms of tacit support for radical social transformation. And there is surely no other race being run across the country that has two leading candidates who so starkly represent the 99% and the 1% as in our mayoral election.
Standing clearly for the 1% is Ed Lee. Not only has he been openly hostile to Occupy SF, twice sending police on late night raids to break up the encampment (calling off a third at the last minute and then lying about the nature of the police movements), but his entire candidacy is a blatant orchestration of the powerful moneyed interests that have run this town for decades. He was only initially offered the job because he promised not to run for a full term, an interim position he didn't even want before being convinced by power brokers Rose Pak and Willie Brown. Then, after breaking his promise not to run in the fall, his campaign has been fueled by large undisclosed donations to Independent Expenditures working on his behalf, not to mention the numerous accusations of illegal contributions to his actual campaign coffers that reek of cronyism and seemingly clear evidence of outright voter fraud. Dennis Herrera said it best: it's not that Ed Lee is a bad guy, it's that he's not his own man. Behind Ed Lee's genial nature and popular mustache is exactly what the Occupy movement is railing against -- the undue and dangerous influence of money in politics. It couldn't be clearer -- a vote for Ed Lee is a vote for the 1%.
On the other hand, nipping at Ed Lee's heels, is a candidate that clearly represents the interest of the 99% in John Avalos. Avalos' credentials run deeper than his support for our local Occupy SF movement, although it's worth noting that he negotiated on behalf of Occupy SF the night of October 11th before the first police raid and introduced a resolution in the Board of Supervisors in support of the occupation. He is consistently referred to as the most progressive of the candidates. John is the architect of the Local Hiring Law, a clear step in the right direction for local economies and working-class people, and he opposed the Twitter Tax Break, a deal which won Ed Lee the support of Twitter co-founder Biz Stone. Avalos is "the people's candidate," running a shoestring campaign on small donations from average folk, and, following a meteoric rise in the polls from long-shot to second place, he's pretty much the only candidate who has a shot at unseating the front-running, big-money Lee. If there is anyone who represents a vote for the 99%, it is John Avalos.
So we have a real opportunity to make a statement as a population on Tuesday. The Occupy movement has successfully brought attention to the yawning gap between the haves and the have-nots through public encampments and large-scale marches. However, the movement has had trouble finding the next step. If the good people of San Francisco elect John Avalos mayor over Ed Lee, it will be a major victory for the downtrodden 99%, a victory that no doubt would not have come without the Occupy movement. As the movement matures and as the weather makes sleeping outside particularly challenging, we 99% will find that there are more ways to participate than pitching a tent in public space and scrawling a clever phrase on a piece of cardboard. It is not a matter of if we will find all the necessary tactics, but when. If we can put John Avalos in the mayor's office, if we can #OccupyRoom200, we'll have taken an important step toward creating that more just world everyone from Zucotti Park to Oscar Grant Plaza to our own Justin Herman Plaza has been calling for. It's time to take back our democracy from the moneyed interests that have fixed the game for far too long. If you consider yourself a part of the 99%, vote John Avalos tomorrow. And whatever you do, leave Ed Lee off your ballot.