As the police (and winter) chased occupiers out of parks over the last few months, the Occupy movement has lost momentum, and clarity of purpose. Holding the parks became the point for awhile, but the occupiers were never going to hold the parks for long.
From a public relations perspective, the Occupy movement is in a better position without the parks. Clashing with the cops dehumanizes protesters in the eyes of the wider public (just as much as it delegitimizes the police in the eyes of protesters). The clashes in the parks distract from the clear sound of the protester’s voice – and it’s time to make that voice clear again.
Put a Face on the Movement
At the moment it’s too easy to dismiss the Occupy movement with the same language Nixon used to describe Goldwater: Hippies, unemployed, lazy, drug addicts, Communists, Socialists, Fascists, etc. Language dragged out of the political archives because it invokes visceral, patriotic, nationalistic reactions and dehumanizes the described. It’s time for the Occupy movement to prove its averageness – and to offer the curious onlooker a way to identify with the movement.
Unfortunately, that does mean a little bit of centralization: Providing a clear voice for the movement that represents the best possible consensus of the occupiers. And that means voting when necessary, and outlining diverse ways for supporters to participate. Ultimately, it means thinking clearly through the different types of people who already do and who might identify with the movement: Students, the unemployed, the poor, whoever – and thinking about how they view their own place in the world. They may not view themselves as the type of person who clashes with police in parks – but they may take more subtle action.
Convincing those people to participate means clearly appealing to their position and clearly describing the movement’s priorities. But here’s what it doesn’t mean: It does not mean the movement is responsible for finding all the solutions. it just means that the movement will have a cohesive center that has a few clear priorities that legislators and the powerful will be held accountable for.
Get Outraged About the Outrageous
The easiest place to find those clear messages to agree upon are in the truly outrageous areas of the American political discourse: Income inequality and the death of the middle class. Watching Kim Kardashian on TV must be a little bit like listening to Marie Antoinette tell the peasants to eat cake. The American middle class is an idealized and almost fetishized institution, but the middle class is shrinking and the numbers of poor are growing. Meanwhile the American public supports tax cuts for the richest Americans because they still believe in the biggest piece of the American dream: that someday maybe they’ll be rich. That someday maybe they’ll benefit from that tax cut.
It’s time to explain that Occupy isn’t some kind of half-baked Robin Hood operation. No one is suggesting we should behead Bill Gates and take all his money. But there are clear ways in which the tax, regulatory and public policy machines in the United States support the continued concentration of wealth in the – well – 1%. So here’s a clear policy agenda, from this Occupier, in hopes of clarifying the discussion.
- Simplify tax code. Ensure you don’t need a lawyer and tax accountant to understand the tax code.
- Roll back the Bush tax cuts. We can’t afford them. Any further justification, or discussion, is stupid.
- Reduce the military budget. The military stage of the Iraq war is over; combat expenditures are reduced. Take a rational look at the peacetime budget.
- Refocus tax and finance regulation and enforcement. Focus IRS investigators on large-time fraud. Give the SEC some muscle. Give the Consumer Protection Commission enforcement capacity.
I haven’t mentioned the entitlement programs not because I don’t think they need work, but because I think they’d be advanced compromise, and this country is barely ready for beginner’s compromise.
Image Credit: WilliamBanzai7