Monday, November 28, 2011

What's next for Occupy Wall Street?

As I've said in a previous article, Occupy Wall Street has already won by shifting the national discussion. It has gone from the thoughtless drumbeat of "let's cut taxes and shrink the government" to a more in depth dialogue of what our tax structure is like, how we're spending our money and 800lb gorilla in the room which is income disparity.

At first, it was easy for the media to ignore it. Certainly a few hundred people camping out in a New York park to protest the excesses and crony capitalism of Wall Street wouldn't last more than a couple of days, or so they thought. A couple of days turned into a couple of weeks, then a couple of months. An occupation of one city turned into the occupation of hundreds of cities worldwide, and a few hundred protesters turned into hundreds of thousands.

Occupy Wall Street has woken some of America up but we still have more people to reach. The TV pundits who initially looked the other way, have now realized that this is something they couldn't afford to ignore. It was intellectually lazy, as is much of our national conversation tends to be, to just dismiss the protesters as just a bunch of homeless people, students with useless liberal arts degrees, "dirty, lazy hippies" and spoiled kids who didn't want to work for a living. In fact, it presented a very convenient target for the likes of Breitbart, Coulter and Limbaugh to lob their freshly-squeezed verbal feces at, similar to a bunch of demented monkeys in a zoo.
Yet, when veterans like Sgt. Shamar Thomas or retired police officers like Capt. Ray Lewis stepped into the picture, the detractors lost their credibility.

Granted, there will always be the people who will believe whatever is spooned out to them from Fox News and but even people who would have never thought they had anything in common with left-leaning folks like Michael Moore have realized that there is something seriously wrong in this country that needs to be fixed. When you have Code Pink lefties standing next to working class moderates and Ron Paul libertarians, you know something has shifted massively. Even some of the more sensible Tea Party folks have come to the realization that while they may not agree with the dreadlocked guy beating drums and calling for the banning of animal testing, they have found some issues they do have common ground on, and for those who are profiting from and driving the status quo, it scares the hell out of them.

We've been a nation divided for quite some time now. We've been pitted against each other as pawns in a much bigger game. We've been fighting the wrong enemy and perhaps now folks are starting to wake up. Yes, it may be hard for a West Coast vegan to realize that many of us Southern, gun-toting, truck-driving meat lovers have something in common with them other than being a carbon based, oxygen breathing multi-cellular organism. It can be hard for some Ron Paul libertarians to accept the fact that not all Harvard-educated government employees want to take away their AR-15 rifles and not every government regulation is a plot to force their children into Communist re-education camps. Every day, a few more people figure this out on both sides and understand that this is beyond the classic trench warfare of "Left vs. Right". Then they see peaceful grandmothers, college students and war veterans being peppersprayed and teargassed. They get the point that this isn't just disgruntled kids looking for the "next big thing" and they're willing to have a hesitant, but honest conversation about what we need to do put our differences aside for awhile to fix things.

It's getting cold throughout most of the US and much of the Northern Hemisphere. For many, the prospect of camping through blizzards and sub-freezing temperatures is not a viable one. I speak for myself when I say that the tent cities have served their place in time but it is just the first step. A movement that does not evolve and adapt, is doomed to eventually fade into insignificance. By all means, we should continue to protest. By all means, we should be out there on the streets against the barricades, constantly reminding those who control the puppet strings that we are on to their game. We need to let them know we know the game is rigged and that despite whatever they say, the system does not work for the rest of us 99% of the time.

However, if all we do is protest, then nothing changes. Things change when people take protest and turn it into action. We will get a government "for the people, by the people" when we put together a coalition which agrees on a few basic principles and demands our elected officials follow them or seek employment elsewhere. I think that's the next step.

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