I’m still trying to figure out whether the Occupy Wall Street movement in all its iterations is just a passing flash of citizen frustration and anger or the start of a powerful grassroots movement for needed change in the United States. I do know that I’m no longer at an age where street theater without specific goals makes sense for me, but I give OWS credit for one important achievement. At last, the debate in this country has moved from focusing solely on how much to slash the safety net for the weakest among us to the obscene accumulation of wealth and political power in the hands of a tiny oligarchy. That can’t be underestimated.
OWS has punched through the wall of special interests surrounding the mainstream media and brought that realization to the forefront of our politics, but the question for me is, What’s next? Just talking about the corruption of our political system and the fallacy of “free” markets that serve only the greedy and the rich doesn’t bring change.
As Adam Markwood, a development finance consultant stated in the Roanoke Times, “Our broken system has become a wealth-ocracy…in which representation is based on how much money one can throw at a political campaign. Politicians and, therefore, legislation can be bought. Legislation is a product for sale to the highest bidder, and the rich have been buying it like pigs at the trough at the expense of everyone else, the 99 percent.”
I do fear that the powerful message that OWS has injected into the national political debate may get muddled and lost as OWS attempts to attract as broad a coalition of supporters as possible, thus finding itself being defined by a sprinkling of anarchists, Marxists, and anti-Semites whose presence could be used to discredit the vital message of the whole group.
Last month, I attended the first organizational meeting of Occupy Roanoke. Two things struck me almost immediately.
First, almost 150 people attended that meeting, many more people than I expected. Second, the group contained people with divergent points of view and sometimes strikingly different purposes for attending. Perhaps that accounted for the insistence on no political affiliation. Still, how can any movement for change succeed without political involvement?
There was a candidate for the House of Delegates at that meeting who urged the attendees to vote this year for people who could represent them and their views. Rather than being happy to have a political convert in their midst, quite a few people were offended by her presence and saw it as an attempt to co-opt the movement for political gain. I realize that many people, especially on the left, think that they have been used far too many times by politicians who desert them as soon as they are in office. They aren’t entirely off the mark with that assessment, but is there any alternative to working from inside the system as well as outside?
While we were told that Occupy had no leaders, the people setting the ground rules for the discussion and agenda were acting as de facto leaders. After the whole body broke up into different small action groups, each group also chose a leader. Having leadership to insure good order and more effectiveness isn’t bad. It’s a necessity in any large group meeting.
I don’t want to discount out of hand Occupy’s ability bring about meaningful change to the toxic culture we now live in because, after all, it’s only been in existence for two months today. For something that began with a posting in the Canadian magazine Adbusters calling on people to occupy Wall Street on September 17 and to bring tents, the movement has had phenomenal success, spreading worldwide.
I haven’t had any other contact with the Roanoke group, which is using social media and a small occupation of Roanoke’s Elmwood Park as their main activities. I wish them well, but my instincts tell me that our economic and political culture also needs agents of change working from inside the political system we have. That’s where I belong.