It may be a long, cold winter for Occupy Wall Street protesters, and not just because camping in the park is not much fun in a snowstorm. The movement which began with such promise and has grown virally needs to move from the streets to the halls of legislatures, and there are thus far not enough signs of that happening.
The Tea Party, also a campaign against the power elite, took its movement to the ballot box in 2010. They may have rallied in the streets often and angrily, but they also organized, backed candidates, and turned out voters. At the local level, they attend city and county government meetings, make demands, and sway elections. Occupy Wall Street has thus far succeeded more at testing the patience of police and small business owners, who, we should not forget, are part of the 99 percent. The countercultural flavor of the Occupy Wall Street protesters must confront its own resistance to organizing. Respect for diversity and full participation are laudable traits but at some point you have to focus.
Fortunately, Occupy Wall Street protesters can learn from a master. Does this sound familiar?
"this conflict between the men who possess more than they have earned and the men who have earned more than they possess is the central condition of progress. In our day it appears as the struggle of freemen to gain and hold the right of self-government as against the special interests"
"It is necessary that laws should be passed to prohibit the use of corporate funds directly or indirectly for political purposes . . . Corporate expenditures for political purposes... have supplied one of the principal sources of corruption in our political affairs."
"The man who wrongly holds that every human right is secondary to his profit must now give way to the advocate of human welfare, who rightly maintains that every man holds his property subject to the general right of the community to regulate its use to whatever degree the public welfare may require it."
The spokesman for the rights of working people was a Republican, Theodore Roosevelt. One year out of the presidency, he spoke in Osawtomie, Kansas, on August 31, 1910. Angry with the power of special interests, Roosevelt would go on to form the Progressive Party. Though he would fail in his bid for the presidency in 1912, the party's platform sounds like a catalog of legislation we now take for granted: social insurance to provide for the elderly, the unemployed, and the disabled; a minimum wage law for women; an eight hour workday; a federal securities commission; workers' compensation for work-related injuries; an inheritance tax; a Constitutional amendment to allow a Federal income tax, women's suffrage and the direct election of Senators.
None of this happened easily, of course, but it would not have happened at all if Roosevelt -- himself a lover of the outdoors -- had not come in from the cold and marshaled the energy of the discontented into red-hot, focused political action.