On Aug. 27, 1963, a Gallup poll revealed that Americans disapproved of the March on Washington — which took place the next day — at a ratio of 3 to 1. Many simply thought the civil rights leaders were demanding too much. Others sympathized with the movement but did not approve of their methods.
Lately, I’ve encountered similar views in regard to Occupy Wall Street — the recent set of anti-corporate protests in New York’s Financial District. Many think all the protesters are nuts or that blocking traffic in front of corporate offices holds no purpose. But to be frank, it doesn’t matter all that much when the public disapproves of a massive demonstration such as the March on Washington or Occupy Wall Street. The point is to raise hell, and Occupy Wall Street is doing exactly that.
Granted, when I first read about the movement, I was very skeptical of its prospects. But it’s been three weeks, and Occupy Wall Street has hardly died out — last week it held its largest demonstration yet. With every new headline of a police crackdown on protesters, I wonder if this is going to mark an important turning point for corporate politics. I sure as hell hope so.
While it’s too early in the game to tell what the protests will amount to, these are the plotlines I’ll be looking to follow as it proceeds:
How will Occupy Wall Street organize its agenda?
Probably the most common criticism of Occupy Wall Street so far is that it has no central focus. As The New York Times puts it, you may ask 10 protesters about the goals of the movement and get 10 different answers. One slideshow from The Atlantic showed protest signs that were all over the place in terms of policy — while some are fighting for higher wages or reforms to student loans, others are demanding that we end capitalism or encourage anarchy.
While these observations are correct, anyone who thinks that the movement needs to have a clear set of policy goals can shove it. Even if the current goals are broad, diverse, and sometimes contrasting, it’s abundantly clear where the common thread lies. Our current economic and political dogma causes tremendously unequal outcomes, and Americans are suffering because of it. For this reason, the movement’s current slogan, “We are the 99 percent” will go a long way. Still, the question remains if a group of leaders will emerge from the pack and deal with the necessary political hurdles to make definitive policy changes.
How much disruption can it cause?
On Friday, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned protesters that they were antagonizing the companies that could hire them, and therefore, they were only hurting the economy further. But this statement misses the point.
Protesters want bigger changes than renewed business confidence leading to increased hiring. And to get those changes, they need bargaining leverage obtained through public disruption. If the disruption means business confidence remains low in the near term, so be it.
Such strategies could likely help other Occupy groups across the country, such as Occupy Ann Arbor, since holding an evening meeting in the Diag didn’t cause much of a stir.
Tea Party counterweight?
Even before last year’s midterm elections, it seemed like Republicans, and especially the Tea Party, had been calling the shots in Washington. But, as many have already pointed out, Occupy Wall Street feels like the Tea Party of the left. In the short term, there’s some hope that this movement can re-energize the Democrats’ liberal base. Congressional Democrats like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi have already shown their support.
In the long run though, I hope Occupy Wall Street can do more. We live in a post-Reagan political realm in which even the Democratic presidents hedge on conservative economic policies. Long gone is the liberal golden age of the 50s and 60s. I realize this is a long shot, but ultimately, I want Occupy Wall Street to succeed so liberalism can once again be a contending force in American politics.
Occupy Wall Street’s future is uncertain, but this statement from former Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold sums up the outcome I’m hoping for, “By the time this is over, it will make the Tea Party look like … a tea party.”
Jeremy Levy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.