We can no longer argue the fact that the Occupy Wall Street movement has arrived. This past weekend marked its largest efforts yet, not only with a massive march to Times Squares but also with global protests echoing the message first voiced at Zuccotti Park. It seems that the nation agrees with that message against corporate greed and widespread structural inequality. A recent Time Magazine poll discovered that 54% of Americans have a favorable impression of the Occupy Wall Street protests, while only 23% percent have a negative impression. Yet as the movement escalates and encompasses more and more American cities, one wonders what role it might play in the current political conversation, and especially ahead of the upcoming 2012 elections.
Many have come to classify the Occupy movement as the liberal version of the Tea Party, a principled conservative movement which arose out of a general disgust with the governmental (or Congressional) betrayal of certain essential values like small government and non-interventionism. In that manner Occupy Wall Street is the principled liberal movement, arising out of disgust with corporate welfare and greed and a general frustration over the unfair and unjust distribution of wealth and the stalled economy. Following that logic, some suggest that as the Tea Party reenergized the Republican Party and organized its way to a 2010 Congressional victory, so might the Occupy Wall Street movement do the same for the Democratic Party. To a certain extent Democrats seem to agree with this sentiment, and are trying to harness the energy of these protests. Recently, in fact, the Democratic National Campaign Committee circulated a petition asking 100,000 supporters to stand in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street protestors.
Democratic leaders have also come out in support of the movement. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she supported “the message to the establishment, whether it’s Wall Street or the political establishment and the rest, that change has to happen.” However, the idea of an eventual marriage between these protestors and the Democratic Party has been a contentious issue. Various profiles on the makeup of this movement reveal that the protestors at Zuccotti Park are not merely disgruntled liberals, but rather an assortment of people with different political interests brought together by a disdain of the status quo. A status quo which they believe has not only been set by corporate money and interests but reinforced by our two party system. Because of this Democrats have also tried to temper their support showing general approval but far from linking arms with protestors.
But while Democrats tiptoe around an unclear stance on the movement, its participants are much more resolute about maintaining the small democratic spirit of its processions, betrothed only to the issues of the people, and not of any one party. Proof of this was seen two weeks ago at the Occupy Atlanta General Assembly in Woodruff Park when protestors rebuffed Congressman John Lewis’s attempt to speak to the crowd. Though the Congressman was later offered the opportunity to speak (he refused due to a time constraint), the deference that one would expect a longtime Democratic congressman and civil rights leader to be paid was not. It was up to the masses gathered there whether he would receive the stage and because some spoke up against the special treatment of any one figure, he was told to wait like everyone else.
After a video clip of the event surfaced many commentators were quick to criticize the protestors’ disrespect. But the incident illustrates an important lesson in this continuing saga: the protestors do not care about the validation offered by mainstream Democratic approval or support. Their goal, unlike that of the Tea Party, is not merely to gain a foothold within a relative party, but rather to collectively figure out ways to combat issues like corporate welfare and social inequality, as cumbersome and unattainable as those goals may be.
Photo by getdarwin via Flickr.