The Occupy Wall Street movement must begin engaging in the democratic process before its momentum fades into irrelevancy. Support is widespread enough to affect real change, but change will not come unless the debate remains focused on economic inequality, not whether camping in a park amounts to freedom of speech.
In the beginning, there was life to the movement. The initial experience of Occupy Wall Street drew people from many walks of life; conservatives, liberals, rich, poor, young and old. It was possible to see right from the start that there was air in the lungs of the fledgling protests. It was evident by the extent to which right-wing commentators and news outlets denounced the movement as ‘small potatoes’ (Kevin O’leary was intelligently rebuffed on his own show). Most respectable news outlets were, at the least, reporting on the movement with a decent level of appreciation. Corporate greed? Sure, we’re against that. Gross economic inequality? It’s true. And, yes, we do want to do something about it.
Predictably, some news outlets were less than understanding toward the movements goals. Fox News has been running opinion pieces opposed to Occupy Wall Street since day one, but a fascinating event took place when the network ran a poll on the matter:
Is there anything more telling about the wide appeal of the Occupy movement than a backfiring Fox News poll? But nonetheless, the Fox News editorial slant has, not surprisingly, stayed the course, highlighting their backward nature and lack of journalistic integrity. Towing the line is, of course, towing the line. No one could expect anything different. But outside of the echo chamber reality of Fox News the debate has started to change, and people invested in the Occupy movement ought to take note.
The outpouring of support the Occupy movement enjoys will fade unless the momentum is channelled into political action, and soon. The discussion surrounding the movement is no longer about whether corporate taxes and ensuring that wealthy elements of society pay their fair share. The talk around the water cooler has dissolved into whether groups of people should be allowed to camp indefinitely in a public space, which they should not. The sentiment is articulated well by The Economist:
Banding together with a bunch of like-minded citizens to make a big noise is a great way to get noticed, to rally similarly-outraged others to a cause, and to shift the terms of the public debate. OWS has done all that. Now they’ve got to get some sympathetic folks elected to public office, because that’s how this democracy thing works, when it does. Anyway, if our democracy really is irredeemably broken, the polls would seem to suggest that further camping is unlikely to turn things around.
The Occupy movement must begin to take action through democratic channels: find worthy candidates, establish a realistic platform — one that is based on a regulated capitalist system, not communism — that addresses the core issues the movement was meant to confront, and turn all those occupiers into supporters of, and voters for, your democratic vision for the country and the world.
You managed to get the attention of people all over the world. The mass turn out in the initial stages of the protests show that many, many people share the common frustrations articulated by the movement. This energy must be harnessed if there is any hope of the ideals of the Occupy movement becoming a reality. Without Occupy Wall Street taking that difficult forward step toward institutional democratic participation, historical obscurity will have found another bedfellow.
The initial popularity of the movement showed that there is political space for it to exist and make a substantial and positive difference. But there is only so much political space, and there’s always someone waiting to fill the void. So, Occupiers, move forward, or move out.