By Mike Mulvihill
This weekend, our family posted a question to our friends on FB querying if anyone knew what the Occupy Wall Street folks really wanted. The response was voluminous, but so were the array of answers and their alarming lack of clarity. As the movement continues to pick up speed in cities around the country and around the world, perhaps the organizers should re-examine a little Protest 101 to make the most of their days in the sun.
Get a lot of attention: OWS gets high marks here. They have gotten a mountain of attention. You’d have to be living under a rock to be unaware of their encampment on Wall Street , the placards, marches and personal stories railing against what used to be called the Establishment. Now, the movement is spreading to a theater near you.
Have a clear message: As Hamlet said, “Ay, there’s the rub.” All of the media attention has focused on the volumes of angst and frustration emanating from the OWS movement. We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore. abuse of power…corporations’ disproportionate influence in the political sphere…Wall Street got a bail out, but the people didn’t…mountains of college debt but no jobs for college grads…more government, less government. Unlike protests of the 60’s, which clearly wanted an end to the war in Vietnam, this movement has yet to form a clear message as to what they’re fighting for. And without a clear message, the movement will eventually peter out.
Have a call to action: It kind of goes hand in hand with a clear message, but now that you got me all worked up – what should I do about it? One of occupywallstreet.org’s own posts is a call for everyone to register to vote. Sadly, there is only one comment to this post. Whether OWS likes it or not, this movement must become a political movement to succeed. What the anti-war movement learned is that if you want to change the system, you must participate in the system. Infiltrate the system and then change it. If you don’t like the dirty bastards you elected (whether by commission or omission), then vote them out. Get people in office who will create legislation that helps the common man – people who won’t bend to the will of political funders and the desire to be re-elected versus do what they were elected to do in the first place. Please OWS, tell me what you want me to do to vent this angst before you merely lead me to decide I am a helpless victim.
Help organize the solution to the problem: Yes, I am emotionally engaged. I hear your message. I agree there is a problem. I am engaged and ready to act. I want to be part of the solution. What can I do? Effective movements capitalize on the opportunity to bring people to action by facilitating that action. They help you become part of the political process. They find and support candidates to run for office. Their members become part of these campaigns. Marching and chanting slogans is but a precursor to the real work of a movement – meaningful societal change. That change will not come from trying to create a parallel universe. It comes from working within the current paradigm.
Have staying power: OWS just celebrated a month. Change takes time. It takes a commitment to win the many battles it takes in order to win a war. Will OWS (or its successor entity) be around in six months? A year? Will all these people eventually decide they have somewhere else they might want to be? Now is the time to be laying the foundation for OWS to survive as a meaningful change agent, a formidable opponent to take on those who abuse power (or whatever the platform coalesces to be). This requires organizational skills, funding and strategic thinking. Because when you get me to act on your initiative, you better still be there when the real action starts to happen.
OWS has an opportunity to provide a platform, a voice and a vehicle to create change for a large number of Americans (the 99 percent) who are justifiably disillusioned with the status quo. Simply attacking the system without a plan is an uprising. And OWS isn’t in a position to architect a coup d’etat. But it can spark a evolution that could achieve real societal change that keeps our country from plummeting into a two-class system that history tells ends only with revolution. As OWS says in its press release celebrating one-month in Zuccotti Park(aka Liberty Square), “We are only getting started.” I couldn’t agree more.
Photo courtesy of CNN Money