What the Occupy Movement Needs to Succeed

Valley Girl and I spent some time at Occupy LA’s tent city in front of City Hall over the weekend. I’m not going to lie to you. I have serious doubts about whether or not this movement will ever effect any sort of meaningful political or, more importantly, economic change without making some serious changes.

Photo via OccupyLA on Flikr

Don’t get me wrong, I support the movement’s ideology wholeheartedly. The issue of wealth disparity has been a concern of mine since I read Domhoff’s true corporate crime novel Who Rules America for my freshman Sociology class. And I am proud to see that so many Americans are finally waking up to fact that they have been swindled out of the American Dream.

Even Fox News has to admit that the Occupy movement has gained an insane amount of momentum over the last few weeks, spreading to over 72 American cities. This movement signifies a long-awaited change in social consciousness and my critique is not meant to undermine its significance.

People are finally engaging in a serious conversation about social and economic inequality. There is passion. There is anger. There is the will — but the will to do what?

Let’s be honest with ourselves.  It’s going to take a lot more than camping out on Wall Street (or Los Angeles City Hall for that matter) to change the current economic paradigm.

Like the Cylons, the Occupiers need a plan.

A practical plan with realistic expectations.

And here are my humble suggestions:

 

1. Focus on the Message. One of the things that Valley Girl and I noticed during last Sunday’s general assembly was that many of the protesters have been using OccupyLA as an opportunity to give speeches about non-related social and political causes. Not only did these policy tangents deter from the message of economic inequality, but they caused the meeting to drag on for over three hours without a clear resolution.

Forget about the environment. Forget about the death penalty. Forget about baby seals. This movement is about wealth disparity. Keep it clear, keep it simple — and keep it focused.

To be fair (yes, I’m talking to you, cable news networks), the Tea Party is just as factional and unfocused. While the Tea Party Movement serves as a platform for a hodgepodge of right-wing agendas, the Occupy Movement has come to encompass the entire spectrum of progressive grievances — from corporate greed to animal rights. They each have their more extreme members. The Tea Party have the Birthers. Occupy has the 9/11 Truthers. But, what’s ironic, is that the core grievance between the two movements is basically the same: Americans are getting poorer.

It’s a powerful message. Let’s not muddle it with pet social causes.

 

2. Decide on One or Two Obtainable Demands. When Rosa Parks was asked to move to the back of the bus, the African American community didn’t camp out in front of the Montgomery bus station. They gave the bus company a clear demand: stop discrimination. And they boycotted the buses until they got their way. Occupy Wall Street could use a little of that clarity of purpose now, before it loses it’s hard-earned momentum.

The challenge is coming up with a demand that not only addresses wealth disparity, but is something that can be realistically accomplished.

Here’s a few good ideas that have been percolating within the movement:

  • Ask the Government to indict those directly responsible for the financial collapse of 2008.
  • $1 trillion government spending on infrastructure.
  • Eliminate “Personhood” Legal Status for Corporations
  • Debt Forgiveness for All. (So, it’s impractical, but it reminds me of that scene at the end of Fight Club when Tyler Durden demolishes all those credit card companies and banks. So, we’re keeping this one for all the dreamers.)

 

3. Get Organized and Devise a Pragmatic and Effective Plan to Obtain Your Demands.  It’s not just what you’re asking; it’s who you are asking and how you plan on making sure that you get it.

During our OccupyLA visit last weekend, Valley Girl and I asked several protesters what they thought the best way the 99% could reclaim some of the wealth and power from the 1%.

Here are some of our favorite ideas:

  • National Boycott Day — or the Day the Earth Stood Still. Everyone stay at home. Don’t buy anything. Don’t go to work. Don’t drive your car. Don’t use electricity. Don’t do anything that involves money or the exchange of goods and services. Boycotts have a pretty good track record of being effective when petitioning the market to change. And everyone (not just the Occupiers) can participate.
  • Camp Out by the Justice Department and/or Congress and refuse to leave until they bring charges against the Wall Street profiteers who crashed our economy. The protesters need to pressure the government into cracking down on the financial institutions, because it doesn’t matter how many people camp out on Wall Street — those fat cats will never give up their wealth or implement reform voluntarily.
  • Take the Money Out of the Banks and Put it into Credit Unions. This is Valley Girl’s preferred solution. And while I support the movement of capital away from banks over the long term, my problem with it is this: the mass exodus of cash from the banks is what caused the Great Depression of the 1930s. It would only cause further economic distress and destroy the retirement savings of millions of Americans if a large portion of the population was to do this at the same time.

We’d love to hear your ideas. Please comment below.

 

4. Find a Credible Leader. Valley Girl raised a wonderful point to me the other day: all successful social movements have a strong leader, who is willing to martyr him or herself for the cause. The question is, who? Currently, Occupy lacks a prominent figure. Maybe Dr. Cornel West will step up to the plate?

 

5. Be Ready to Sacrifice Everything. As you can see, my passion for the cause has fueled my frustration with its lack of clear purpose and leadership. And maybe the reason for the lack of focused demands and an actionable plan for civil disobedience is that the problem is so great that it can be only solved with the complete and utter collapse of our current economic system.

Maybe it’s going to take a revolution to really change the way money works in this country. And I don’t think many of us have the stomach for that.

But just because the system’s problems seem overwhelming, doesn’t mean the cause isn’t worth fighting for. We can make things better, if only in baby steps. So, come on Occupiers. The World is yours if you want it. You just have to figure out a practical way to take it.

 

Love,

Shanon


 

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