I began writing this back in the fall. Then I got busy with social movements, like keeping same-day voter registration in Maine, and I didn’t pay as much attention to the Occupy stuff. Now, Time Magazine has named the protestor its Person of the Year and the issue arrived in my mailbox this week. Most of the story is about the protests in the Middle East, as it should be. Those people are protestors. They helped overthrow brutal dictatorships. Camping in parks doesn’t count as protesting in my book.
The Occupier interviewed for the Time article says he got involved because he was frustrated by how little the Obama Administration had accomplished. I think you all know my thoughts on that one, but just in case, check out What the Heck Has Obama Done So Far? But it gets better. While the occupier was disappointed with the other occupiers, he acknowledged “there are jerks in every organization no matter how ‘pure’ the organization.” If only he and his compatriots recognized that governments are also organizations.
Here are my thoughts from October:
I’ve had mixed feelings about the #occupy protests. The occupiers seems like the Tea Party of the left to me: they are !ANGRY! but it’s unclear exactly what they are !ANGRY! about: wall street malfeasance? Corporate greed? Wealth distribution? Capitalism? Corporations in general? The Citizens United “corporations are people” decision? All of the above?
I agree with Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee that the occupiers lack “a focused agenda: this is what we want and these are the strategies we are going to use to get what we want.” One simple strategy is to vote, but apparently you’re not voting. More about that later.
Jen Schmidt had a great piece on Boston.com: We are the 99 Percent, Too—But We Don’t Agree with Occupy. She highlighted three major concerns:
- Hypocrisy–best summed up by this sentence: “Your point about hating the uber-wealthy corporation is lost when it finishes with a small “Sent from my iPhone” sign off.”
- The Lack of Awareness—there are 7 billion people in this world and the 99% of America are a hell of a lot better off than the 99% elsewhere.
- The Missing Message–I’m a political organizer; message is key, yet the occupiers don’t have one. They have a list of complaints, but I’m looking for more. “Without a goal, without a stance, and without an end, your means mean nothing. Awareness is great, but as you aim for tangible action and demand accountability from those you protest, the need for a unified message increases.”
However, I’d say my number one complaint is the likely overlap between the occupiers and the people who don’t vote. From 2008 to 2010 there was:
- a 60% decline in voters under the age of 24
- a 50% decline in voters ages 25-29
- a 40% decline in African-American voters
- a 30% decline in Hispanic voters
- a 33% decline in voters with incomes under $30K
By contrast, the 65+ and up crowd (the core of the Tea Party) declined by less than 1 percent, and the mostly white voters making more than $200K (aka the 1% the occupiers are complaining about) declined only 5% (Voting, Not OWS, Will Save America).
Why are we in this mess? Cause decisions are made by those who show up. The other side showed up. Too many of you couldn’t be bothered. Life is unfair, the political system sucks, too much inequality. Valid complaints. But I’m less inclined to listen to you when you can’t be bothered to raise your hand every year.
Put another way, “go and participate in the process instead of screaming about why you have no voice.”
You want a revolution? Start by being an informed and educated citizen. Then vote. Vote, vote, vote. Vote in every election. Midterms count. So do primaries. Don’t like the candidates? Run for office yourself. Recruit candidates who share more of your values (you’ll never get an exact match, unless you run yourself and remember that perfect is the enemy of good). Volunteer for the candidates and campaigns you prefer. And vote. Hopefully you’re getting how important voting is. The civil rights leaders did. More from Frank Viviano:
“Half a century ago, Martin Luther King and Cesar Chavez understood that genuine change could only be achieved through long-term, patient struggle – and that the prize, in King’s famous words, was full access to the nation’s key institutions, notably the ballot box and the governing seats it fills.
“The leaders and foot soldiers of the civil rights era fought with unflagging commitment, and King himself was martyred, in a two-decade campaign for the voting privileges that 2010 abstainers dismissed as unworthy of an hour’s time on a single Tuesday in November. The Wall Street demonstrators are now debating an even broader boycott of the 2012 presidential election.”
I found this gem at the end of the Time piece: “Aftermaths are never as splendid as uprisings. Solidarity has a short half-life. Democracy is messy and hard, and votes may not go your way. Freedom doesn’t appear all at once.” Guess what? Politics works the same way.