So what now?
Six months ago, the Occupy Wall Street movement swept across the country, encapsulating growing economic inequities through chants and slogans, even as it failed to cohere in formulating plans to address them.
The movement, with its encampments of protest and poverty, hope and homelessness, quickly captured the media’s and the public’s imagination, only to fade in the face of winter and the sometimes measured, sometimes ugly force of police departments intent on shutting the tent cities down.
Left behind was a resounding question for all Americans — are you with the 1 percent or the 99? — and a vague sense of promise that Occupy had at least changed the ground rules of America’s economic debate.
But has it really?
Caught up in the spirit of the moment, I predicted, somewhat gushingly, in a Nov. 15 blog, that, “whatever happens for now, the Occupy movement has made its mark. News has finally focused on the enormous and growing disparities between the “1 percent” (and especially the .1 percent) and everyone else.” I suggested, the movement would re-appear “stronger and smarter, come spring.”
Well, it is officially spring. So this week I decided to take measure of Occupy’s pulse. Leafing through news reports and Occupy postings, a few things seem clear.
For one, the movement certainly hasn’t gone away. In my home city, Boston, Occupy has 66 “working groups,” an Occupy activist told two of my Emerson College graduate reporting students last week. Their article noted that a recent post to Occupy Boston’s Facebook page reads, “#OccupyBoston doesn’t rest. The #AmericanSpring is about to bloom. Occupy Boston 3.0 is here. You can’t evict an idea!”
In other words, stay tuned.
In New York City, whose Zuccotti Park encampment gave birth to the movement, Occupy Wall Street is again on the march. Hundreds of Occupiers this weekend called for the resignation of the city’s police commissioner, reports London’s Guardian, after the arrest earlier in the week of 73 protesters in “a crackdown most Occupiers described as excessively violent.” The movement’s New York newspaper, The Occupied Wall Street Journal, continues to post its “Reports From the Front Line.” But then, it may say something that one of the more comprehensive reports of the weekend protest appeared in a British newspaper.
Of 6,620 listings for “Occupy movement” Monday afternoon at news.google.com, one headline in particular, from Voice of America, caught my eye. It read “Occupy Movement Seeks Renewed Physical Presence.”
This gives pause. Is the movement in danger of replaying the same tune one too many times?
It’s true. The idealistic eccentricity of Occupy’s initial presence in tent cities, governed in general assemblies by the collective in the common, did capture attention. But I doubt that can happen again with the same force. Reporters are a skeptical lot, sometimes cynical. That so many latched on to the story of Occupy’s protests last fall says more, I believe, about the movement’s overarching message than its idealistic methods.
Last fall, I didn’t share critics’ complaints that Occupy needed to wed its message to focused political action. Now, however, I believe it does. If it re-emerges as more of the same, it will be less than in the past.
That’s why one date on the horizon — set not by Occupy but by a splinter group calling itself the 99 Percent Declaration seems intriguing. On July 4, the group, co-founded by New York lawyer Michael Pollok, plans to hold what it is calling a “Continental Congress 2.0” in Philadelphia.
At its web site, which describes its evolution, the 99 Percent Declaration, states clearly “that we are organized to effectuate political change.”
Its plan includes:
- Electing a man and a woman to represent each of the Congress’ 435 Congressional districts as part of a plan to send 488 “delegates” to Philadelphia during the July 4 week.
- Ratifying a petition for a “redress of grievances” under a clause in the First Amendment that would then be given to all members of Congress, the president and the Supreme Court justices, Pollok said in a telephone interview.
- Nominating candidates to oppose sitting members of Congress in the 2014 election if those members failed to address these “grievances.” The grievances, which now number 21 but Pollok said are likely to shrink to about 10, range from calls for the end of the electoral college and the war in Afghanistan to the instituting of Congressional term limits and a fair tax code. Most center on economic inequality.
A pipe dream? It probably doesn’t help matters that this convention has not been endorsed by Occupy Wall Street because, the Associated Press reports, it never met with the approval of Occupy’s general assembly.
“There’s been a lot of controversy because we don’t subscribe to the direct democracy model,” Pollok said. Nationally, he added, “we don’t think it works.”
Nonetheless, he acknowledged, “we would not be here but for Occupy.”
Pollok insists this event will happen — that the Pennsylvania Convention Center is booked, that 504 delegates already have registered to run for an online election on June 1, and that the “convention” will come up with a petition that the delegates will bring to Independence Hall in Philadelphia, where it will be read. It may sound a little slick by Occupy standards, but these United States are pretty big to amplify a general assembly message without a megaphone, as past Occupy rallies have done.
Minor political parties have come and gone throughout American history. Whether this one will take shape, let alone field a muscular counterweight to the right’s Tea Party — and Pollok insists it will be nonpartisan — remains to be seen.
But I suspect the evolution of Occupy and its cousins — if indeed there is an evolution — could well rest with this July convention. It should prove an interesting event.
This blog appeared at The Huffington Post.