Zuccotti Park during an Occupy Wall Street protest in New York, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2011. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Occupy Wall Street. What other political movement in modern times has won the sympathy and/or support of the majority of the American public—in less than two months? How did this happen? I think it was a revolt that has been percolating across the country since Reagan fired the first air traffic controller. Then, on September 17, 2011, a group of (mostly) young adults decided to take direct action. And this action struck a raw nerve, sending a shock wave throughout the United States, because what these kids were doing was what tens of millions of people wished they could do. The people who have lost their jobs, their homes, their “American dream”—they cathartically cheered on this ragtag bunch who got right in the face of Wall Street and said, “We’re not leaving until you give us our country back!”
By purposely not creating a formal, hierarchical organization with rules and dues and structure and charismatic leaders and spokespeople—all the things their parents told them they would need in order to get anything done—this new way allowed people from all over the country to feel like they were part of the rebellion by simply deciding that they were part of the rebellion. You want to occupy your local bank—do it! You want to occupy your college board of trustees—done! You want to occupy Oakland or Cincinnati or Grass Valley—be our guest! This is your movement, and you can make it what you want it to be.
In the old days, if you were starting a movement, you had to first educate the public about the problem you were trying to fix, and then you had to persuade them to join you. To move America toward a nonracist, nonsexist, nonhomophobic, peace-seeking nation took years—decades—and we’re still not there. But with Occupy Wall Street, you don’t have to convince the majority of Americans that greed rules Wall Street, that the banks have no one’s interests but their own at heart or that corporate America is out to squeeze every last bit of labor and wages out of everyone’s pocket. Everybody gets it. Even those who oppose it. The hardest part of this or any movement—building a majority—has already happened. The people are with us. So now what do we do?
Here’s what we don’t do: don’t turn Occupy Wall Street into another bureaucratic, top-down organization. That will certainly kill it. Baby boomers who grew up working within traditional organizations need to calm down and not shoehorn this movement into the old paradigm of “Let’s elect people to office and then lobby them to pass good laws!” Let Occupy take its natural course. The candidates for office that we need are in this movement. (Are you one of them? Why not? Someone has to do it, and it would be better if it was you!) The laws that must be enacted to make this a more just nation will come in due time. And not ten years from now; some of this will happen this year. The leading candidate for Congress from my hometown of Flint, Michigan, has already taken a pledge to make “getting money out of politics” his top goal once in office. Others have joined him. We need to vote for them and then hold them to it.