FINALLY. FOR THREE YEARS THE ONLY POPULIST response to economic hardship has come from the reactionaries in the Tea Party. Now, at long last, we have a grassroots stirring that doesn’t emanate from the far right and isn’t taking cues from plutocrats like the Koch brothers.
The Occupy Wall Street movement is a welcome development—an independent, albeit messy, rejoinder to the class warfare waged with increasing ferocity by the wealthy against everyone else. “We are the 99%” is a brilliant and apt slogan that captures many Americans’ palpable frustration. It is solidarity for the Internet Age.
At its core, Occupy Wall Street is the visceral realization of the urges of millions of people to “do something.” To do something about the corruption of democracy by monied interests; to do something about Wall Street firms that wrecked an economy and got away with it; to do something about Beltway elites who refuse to regulate the financial industry; to do something about the increasingly hopeless economic outlook for millions of Americans, especially young people who face dire employment prospects and crippling student debt.
Occupy Wall Street, much to the frustration of mainstream media, lacks a 12-point agenda. While a successful social movement will eventually need to set goals, right now it’s nice simply to see ordinary folks taking democracy into their own hands. “Our mission is to assert our rightful place within the political process, and take the reins of power away from the profit-driven interests,” reads the mission statement of Occupy Austin, one of dozens of Occupy groups across the nation. This is hardly a radical statement, but it’s a refreshing, desperately needed one. It’s a restatement of national principles.
The increasingly pressing question is, What next? The truth is that nobody knows. This is a popular revolt, not a top-down PR campaign. Democracy is hardly tidy. Its direction is provisional. “We are the 99%” implies an almost impossible inclusiveness. In Austin, Ron Paul fans—no strangers to the Tea Party—clamor to air their view that the world’s troubles begin and end with the Federal Reserve, while lefty activists cling to an unwieldy “consensus”-based decision-making process. Democrats obsess, rather narrowly, about how the movement will affect Obama’s re-election prospects.
The Occupy movement could well fizzle. Or it could be on its way to effecting real change.