So – the #OccupyWallSt protests have been going on for nearly two weeks. And to date, they have been more curiosity than successful. Why? Here’s a great take from Osborne Ink:
No blogger has wanted this kind of moment out loud longer than me. No one has begged for it longer than I have. I want this to work so bad I can taste it. Spare me the protestations that “everyone understands” the problem on Wall Street; unless they appeal to Main Street, the General Assembly isn’t going to accomplish any item on any of their innumerable lists of numerous demands. Because there is no infrastructure, and so far an unwillingness to build infrastructure, they have zero hope of effecting change without attracting middle America and using the infrastructure that exists. That’s not “scorn,” it’s hard-nosed realism about the limits of idealism.
It’s a spot on analysis. Every real movement needs backers, needs structure. Need a recent example? Look at the Tea Party. They had no real power and were looking like a bunch of tricorner hat wearing kooks. Then the Kochs and other right-wing backers started pouring money and resources in and the organizing of the Tea Party began in earnest.
They reduced their “demands” to easily understood and digested sound bytes, so no matter how little they were based in truth, they still caught on. People who couldn’t pass PolSci 101 were suddenly calling anyone left of John Birch a “socialist”. The organizing worked.
The latest news from the front is that the movement is gaining support from labor unions and groups like Continental Airlines pilots. But this is a double-edged sword. Unions are a favorite whipping boy for the right, and their joining the cause will only fire up the anti-union rhetoric. With union participation at some of its lowest levels in decades, this isn’t exactly playing to the “99%” that #OccupyWallSt wants to represent.
And should there be anything other than completely non-violent protest, it will be blamed on the influx of “union thugs”, and the message will be lost in the noise that creates. More importantly, they will lose the interest and backing of the people they want to fight for.
The movement is at an important potential tipping point. The presence of union support can elevate the discussion beyond the few hundred who have take up residence in Zucotti Park. But if they don’t use that elevated presence to present the American people with a specific set of goals for the protest, they will miss their moment.
The #OccupyWallSt website has now released a set of 9 “demands”, goals for the movement for change in Washington in regards to Wall St. And they plan on expanding the non-violent protest to Washington, DC to try to get these goals achieved. But as Osborne pointed out, if they can’t distill these demands into something the average Joe can understand, they fail. They’ll get lip service from those on Capitol Hill, with no real public support. And until there is public support, there won’t be any change.
For example, their first demand is the reinstatement of Glass-Steagall. Just try finding ten ordinary folks who have a clue what Glass-Steagall is. If they simply said something like “STOP THE WALL ST. GAMES”, people can understand that tidbit. “MAKE WALL ST. PLAY BY THE RULES”. Something that the average person understands and can get behind. Once you have their attention, you can then get into the details – ask them to call, fax, email tweet to pass the legislation (HR 1489 to be exact).
Don’t talk about Congressional oversight of Wall St. – talk about prosecuting criminal acts on Wall St. Again, simplify the message and solidify it so the average American that is too busy with life, kids and trying to pay bills can absorb it quickly and understand the basics.
In a few weeks, it’s going to start to get cold in Zucotti Park. The number of protesters is going to start to dwindle. They’ll need a lot of support to continue the vigil. And you can bet the folks who want them to stop will do what they can to prevent them from getting that help and being as uncomfortable as possible. Look for enforcement of regulations that will prohibit the use of heaters and other equipment to keep them warm. It will be a long winter, and resolve will weaken.
So, the time is now for them to build on what they have, and take the protest to a higher level. It needs to gain focus, it needs to truly address the 99% they want to represent. My guess is that right now, 90% of that 99% have no idea who is protesting.
#OccupyWallSt can succeed, but they need to do the one thing they have avoided until now: Organize.