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What Role Can the Occupy Movement Play in the Upcoming Election?

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The Occupy movement seems to have all but disappeared from media coverage over the past months. Is this due to the fever pitch of the presidential campaign, or has the movement's time come and gone? The Occupiers are certainly still out there -- having held a National Convention on July 4 in Philadelphia -- but their occupying actions and denouncements of Wall Street and corporate greed these days seem to be mainly out of view of the general public. Just last week, they were outside New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg's townhouse on the fashionable Upper East Side in Manhattan, protesting as a fundraiser for Republican Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts was in full swing inside. Their protest was against Bloomberg -- a major Wall Street player -- and his support of this GOP candidate who panders to corporations rather than serving the needs of his constituents. Occupy's rallying cry was "Mr. Wall Street Buys Washington." This was followed two days later by another OWS demonstration further downtown in Bryant Park, with the clarion call of "Wake up Wall Street -- Money Out Of Politics!" It's hard to believe that the first anniversary of the Occupy movement is rapidly approaching, coming this Sept. 17. I hope these energetic, passionate young people will mark the day in big style, a celebration that is well deserved. We have all lived through so much in this past year, a year that feels like an eternity. The middle class remains under siege from extreme right-wing ideologues, continuing its decline as the economy sputters along. Meanwhile, the jobs that are being created -- the ones that the Obama administration keeps trying to put up as signs of a "recovery" -- are primarily low paying jobs, making it impossible to maintain a middle class life. Millions more in our nation are living in abject poverty today, and the War on Poverty of the 1960s, cast in a stark light by Robert F. Kennedy in Mississippi in 1967, seems to have become a lost cause in today's harsher and harsher economic climate. The very word "poor" is never even mentioned on the campaign trail by any politician (other than by the now-disgraced John Edwards), yet we have a higher percentage of low-paying jobs currently than any other nation. Tavis Smiley has challenged our president to "(s)ay the word 'poor,' Mr. President. We want to hear you say it!" Meanwhile, Congress continues to drag its feet on -- or openly oppose, in the case of House Republicans -- raising the minimum wage to $10.80 per hour, which would still keep far too many people living below the poverty line. Yet this is only one issue of many on which the Occupiers need to turn up the heat. What of health care reform, energy security and climate change, trade agreements, education, housing, women's health issues, voting rights, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, tax reform and military involvement abroad? The list goes on. With Romney choosing Tea Party darling Paul Ryan as his vice president, it is clear where his priorities will lie if he is -- God forbid -- elected president. A Ryan-influenced budget would shred everything America has achieved over the past 75 years. The differences between the two candidates for president -- as well as their respective parties -- couldn't be starker. So what is the role for the Occupy movement in this election? I am going to go out on a limb and suggest where I think the movement needs to go in the next several weeks, so it can have a positive effect on this election:
  1. Since it has become abundantly clear in recent years that the Democratic Party does not support Progressives, and will continue to support Conservative and Blue Dog Dems -- who can bring in more donor money to the party and are deemed more "electable" by the Party bosses -- Occupy can step in to supply the energy and People-power to the campaigns of true Progressives on the local, state and federal level, and help recruit and elect true Progressives going forward as well. I see future candidates coming out of the Occupy movement itself, as it is an incubator for visionaries.
  2. They can engage in voter registration drives and GOTV campaigns everywhere they are active, especially to get the Progressive vote out in November. And, as suggested by Rita Rowan, a political activist and expert on children's learning disabilities, OWS can "... see to it that at polling places around the country, people who are eligible to vote are not turned away or left to wait in long lines on the street. OW(S) can provide.. .for an honest election, as students were able to provide manpower and eyewitnesses for the civil rights movement. A movement without a center is no movement."
  3. They can raise the profile of passing an amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision, which is wisely now a big part of their agenda.
By focusing on these three actions, Occupiers can help return our government to the People. It is not enough for Occupy to continuously point their finger at the transgressions and greed of the financial community and corporations if they really expect to change the system. They revealed the problem and now it is time for them to work on solutions, which they apparently discuss in their issue workshops and assemblies. It is time for the movement to mature and move on to create and promote tangible solutions to the issues of the day if they are to create real change. But first they will have to work within the system we have. Their mantra of solving our problems through a "World revolution" is little more than a Utopian dream. Clearly, we -- along with the People of so many nations around the globe -- must take our government back. It is the "how" that is the question. Nonetheless, it has been awe-inspiring to witness the birth of the Occupy movement, being inspired by the Arab Spring of 2010-11, taking wing in Wisconsin in the Spring of 2011, and making its first public stand in Zuccotti Park near Wall Street in New York City last September. Wall Street greed and corruption was laid bare to the world, and we have since come to understand that 1% of the American population controls our politics and owns our government, while the rest of us have become the voiceless 99%. A global realization to a global phenomenon, so fierce it exploded and was heard around the world. Our issues are the same faced by billions across the globe, and when those brave young people in the Middle East acted, dictatorships were toppled. That the Occupy movement continues to function without organized national leadership is still troubling. Each Occupy group functions independently and does its own thing across the country. In order to succeed and grow as a powerful, cohesive force, the Occupy movement must begin to coordinate and develop a cohesive strategy that all Occupiers can follow. A game plan and strategy that builds the movement and sets goals must evolve. Some governing body has to make those decisions and be held accountable. That could create unstoppable People power that could change our politics -- and the World.

Co-authored with Jonathan Stone

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