By Josh Rogers
An Occupy Wall Street group invited me last week to a Facebook page outlining all of the financial corruption issues the media was ignoring. The first post I saw involved portable toilets at one of their encampments.
Now surely a grassroots movement with protests in many countries has plenty of logistical worries, but I couldn’t help but wonder if the movement will ever try to use its power to make significant policy changes.
Occupy has of course been quieter in New York since the mayor stopped them from sleeping in Zuccotti Park at the end of last year. Last week, the movement revived with large May Day protests, although they didn’t get the mass arrests that had helped fuel their movement when they were sleeping in the park.
Many gathered to march in Bryant Park, and police ignored the small number who were violating Mayor Bloomberg’s anti-smoking rules. Occupy Wall Street has clearly tapped into a broader anger about income inequality and corporate excesses, but it’s far from clear how much more of a tangible effect they will have. Matthew Bolton, 31, an Occupy protester and political science professor at Pace University, acknowledged that the efforts so far have been symbolic, although he said “symbolism is incredibly important.” He’s hoping to see change in Washington at some point.
Certainly there has been some. President Obama’s tougher language about inequality was undoubtedly influenced by the protests. And in Albany, Gov. Andrew Cuomo dropped his opposition to continuing the so-called millionaire’s tax (it affects wealthier people who make considerably less) and extended part of it.
But is anything more coming? There are hundreds of congressional races this year, and the types of curbs Occupy wants on Wall Street firms ultimately would have to be implemented in Washington. Occupy could look to the Tea Party movement for guidance. Usually, neither the left- or right-wing groups like to be linked in any way, but given the timing of their creations and at least a few similarities, that’s a losing battle.
The Tea Party did accomplish many of its goals by sending more conservatives to Congress, which stiffened GOP opposition to tax increases as well as government investments to stimulate the economy such as transportation projects.
But the caution for Occupy is that the Tea Party may very well have cost the Republicans control of the Senate by nominating a couple of extremists who were not able to win general elections. These were races more moderate Republicans could have won.
Occupy prides itself on its leaderless nature and so far has shown little interest in the upcoming congressional races or in setting up a specific agenda. Longterm, a national change in attitude perhaps will lead to the real change Occupy hopes for, but that patience likely will mean change for the worse at first, As they say for the lottery, you have to be in it to win it.
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