OK, a couple of weeks ago I wrote a piece questioning the Occupy Wall Street movement and got some really interesting responses. In the meantime a local chapter, Occupy Philly, has sprung up along with a number of other franchises.
There are some really positive aspects to these developments. Peaceful demonstrating without a shutdown of everything is one thing this movement has going for it.
It is tapped into a mood of discontent in our country that is broader that the Taxed Enough Already motif of 2009. A main theme of standing up to taking on the institutionalization of corporate greed is a legitimate idea. This institutionalization in the forms of Citizens United and bailout paybacks are wrongs that need to be addressed.
However, I am still troubled by a couple of things.
While I do not earn enough to be in the top 1%, I am very uncomfortable being lumped in with the other 99%. There is no way to ask me if I want to be a part of this group.
The General Assembly idea is great, but as someone who already has commitments to family and work, it is not practical for me (or large scads of the rest of the folks the 99%ers are claiming to represent) to have my voice heard at a once or twice a day repeating session of General Assemblers. If I can only voice my opinion to these small crowds -- it is just as cynical as the GOP's team effort to repeal voting rights. I am just as shut out by those who feel they have more of a right to the direction of a movement like this just for being there.
There needs to be a facility for those who cannot be there on the ground to have our voices heard. This group cannot rightfully claim to represent 99% of anything if a small group has the microphone. On the first day of Occupy Philly it was a tight rotation of folks who had the mic. (When I went up to one of the organizers to do something about the news chopper creating so much noise people could not hear -- he blew me off with a "we don't have time for that here.")
I don't know if a website -- or series of websites -- would be applicable, but then we get back to how do we convey any idea to a community as large and unwieldy as this. 99% of 310,000,000 people is around 306,900,000 people. Everyone speaking at once just creates white noise that can drown out helicopters.
While I wander the internet there seems to be a debate about how this group should handle voting and elections. In Pennsylvania registration is closed for the November election. I said this to some folks walking around Occupy Philly and with a sneer they bit back that is the government trying to shut us down. The response to that is, "No, the government is not shutting you down. It is trying to get organized so that those who have registered to vote have the paperwork at the polls. This way everyone can vote properly. It takes work behind the scenes to make that happen."
If you have not registered yet -- it is too late to vote, but everyone can still have an effect. Municipal elections have notoriously low turnout.
At the end of Election Day someone will be elected to office. Is it better to have someone who will listen to you?
People at Occupy Wherever can still have a profound effect on this year's elections by simply looking at who is running now and making a choice or endorsement of those running. If there are folks with cell phones, various political committees have apps that can be used to contact voters in a targeted district. Doing this allows the Occupy movement to solidly move the ball down their field. The movement will begin to make real contact with the other parts of the 99% that the movement will need to team with.
The Occupy Movement needs to reach out to organizations that can facilitate these communications. Does that mean unions who are stepping up to help? Does that mean reaching out to political parties that can actually do something real -- read: get out a vote on election day?
A theme I have seen on the web is that the Occupy Movement would somehow be co-opted by these outside groups. People using this line of reasoning need to think of a response to, "This is already where these organizations are going. They have already invented the wheel and have expertise in these areas. These organizations have been waiting for people to become aware and activated." If Occupy Whatever cannot unite with people who are already fellow travelers, who can they unite with?
If people in the Occupy Movement are so disgusted with the political system as it stands -- they need to talk to all candidates on the ballot running and figure out who will best represent their interests. Then they need to help that individual with phone calls -- or actually working the polls on Election Day.
Third Parties should chip in and help, if for no other reason than to get the political experiences needed to run your own later elections. Learn what the big guys are doing. Learn how to connect with people to get them active. Use this election as a trial to make mistakes.
If this really comes to something -- will the Occupy Movement begin to endorse candidates from one party or another? Will it begin to start its' own third party? Sitting on a corner and occupying space does nothing for anyone.
As you are sitting and Occupying -- please ask yourself about the "What next?" and the "How do we get there?" parts of the process.
Sitting on a corner and mobilizing others to do something within their reach (vote) will have a profound effect on the system. Votes are what politicians understand. Showing you know how to use your vote will get their attention. Cloning yourself as a voter will scare the daylights out of them.
If you are an American and believe the system is broken -- how are you going to fix it without finding people to get into positions to help you do it? Isn't that what voting is about? Isn't this what made our system so special in the first place?