Streams

Opinion: Dems Must Take Up the 99 Percent's Cry

Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - 11:41 AM

As Occupy Wall Street was winning the support of labor and community groups in the streets of New York, the Senate Majority Leader was proposing a five percent surtax on millionaires.

After a Political Action Table at Liberty Square (aka Zuccotti Park) has spent two weeks engaging protesters in discussion of continuing the New York State millionaires tax, a coalition of advocacy groups renewed its push for the legislation, adopting the name 99 New York.

Realizing that not everyone can make it to a General Assembly or 6am solidarity protest, an effort called Occupy the Boardroom has given the 99 percent% all around America a way to communicate their frustrations and goals online.

All of these efforts share a few commonalities. First, they are all feeding off the incredible energy that Occupy Wall Street has unleashed. While frustration with our financial sector and outrage at the lack of accountability following the crisis of 2008 are not new, this movement showed that these feelings haven't gone away, and urged them into vocal, vivid, public displays.

That outburst has been seen in encampments and marches - and now in pushing political leadership into stronger policy positions and fiercer advocacy.

Second, all of these efforts respond to that fast-circulating canard of conventional wisdom that "Occupy Wall Street needs demands" or that "If they don't take it to the next level soon, they'll burn out."

I hear these concerns from pundits and political officials - and from friends, family members. I hear them from people who genuinely want reforms in our country's economy but can't imagine how a tent city in Lower Manhattan creates real and lasting change.

These efforts show that the movement is evolving beyond the inspiring 24/7 occupation, beyond the contagious network of kindred occupations around the country and the world, beyond the powerful infusion of populist ideas into mainstream media discourse…all of which are impressive achievements in their own right.

But those worried about "what else #OWS" could become need to see it's already becoming.

Finally, what these three examples have in common is that they are not actually being run by the people in Liberty Square. They may be done with some communication back to the working groups that meet daily.

They may pull on similar language, and certainly are based out of a common sense that we need to pull our country back from a course of economic injustice.

But just as the protesters didn't wait for permission from the political establishment to kick off #OWS, these political efforts don't need to wait for permission from a General Assembly to pursue economic reforms in the ways they know how.

That is how the 99 percent will see progress: By different groups, within and outside of the occupation itself, trying things out, riding the waves of anger and hope, aligning with the mass sentiment, rather than trying to control it or waiting to follow it.

Most politicians or organizational strategists would like to sit down with #OWS leadership. The problem is that there isn't traditional leadership; and the leaders there are don't have the authority to make plans outside of the participatory process. This may mean that the occupiers aren't racing to specific demands; but that's not their job.

They have been incredibly effective at triggering and amplifying our country's latent emotions. Now our political apparatus should push demands, reforms and legislation that speak to those feelings.

That doesn't mean politicians should try to co-opt Occupy Wall Street.

Anyone who looks at this parade and tries to race to the head of it will be laughed down. Many Republicans never claimed to speak for the Tea Party, but tailored their message to resonate with Tea Party themes. Progressive elected officials can do the same with the passion coming out of Wall Street.

I wouldn't want Harry Reid to head up an Occupy Caucus in the Senate - and the people down at Liberty Square would shiver at that notion. But I do want Harry Reid to reference the authentic concerns these protests have put on display... as President Obama himself did a the dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr, Memorial just a few days ago.

So, stop asking the protesters to do it all - they have enough trouble running their kitchen, clean-up and medical crews, debating with their recalcitrant drum circle and rebuffing right-wing smears.

They have already inserted their concerns about economic injustice into the public domain. Let others come up with the 10-point legislative solutions that resonate with these messages. Let other officials and organizations tap into this energy (without trying to own it) to fuel their campaigns to hold Wall Street accountable, create jobs and economic prosperity and support an America that works for the 99 percent, not just the 1 percent. And let's see candidates in 2012 who neither claim to lead Occupy Wall Street, nor simply chase after it, but march alongside their brothers and sisters in this movement.

Justin Krebs is a political organizer and writer based in New York City. He is the founder of Living Liberally, a nationwide network of 250 local clubs that create social events around progressive politics, and author of "538 Ways to Live, Work and Play Like a Liberal."

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Comments [1]

Jack Jackson from Central New Jersey

Ally themselves, sure....

Take up the 99% cry? I'm not so sure. Like an iceberg, the 1% who pockets 23% of the national income is the most visible part of the problem and, therefore, understandably one of the point of the protests. However, the top 10% of earners are taking HALF of national income. The real task is to get earning power - not just subsistence wages - back down into middle class pockets. What happened to the nation's bell curve on income?

Oct. 18 2011 01:38 PM

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