Putting Pundits to Shame: Protesters Know Exactly What They're Fighting For
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John talked of a shorter work week to bring down unemployment, like the successful work-sharing programs in Germany; an idea economists like Dean Baker have espoused since the crash. He said we needed lobbying reform, and to mitigate the damage wrought by the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case. He advocated a Medicare buy-in be open to all citizens.
Was he a regular activist? “I protested in the past off and on, but I didn't always think there was much of a purpose for it,” he said.
What did he think the overarching message of the movement should be? “We don't have a government for 'we the people' anymore,” he said, “and I do believe we're going to have to have ongoing, non-stop protests for months to fix it.”
I asked him if he thought Americans had reached a tipping point. “It really seems like there's something happening here,” he told me. “I don't know if we've reached that point yet, but I think we probably will in the next few months. I think the movement is going to grow. And it's not a matter of voting in the right amount of Democrats, or Tea Partiers or whatever. The whole system is broken. You know, where were the Democrats when they were outsourcing our jobs for the last 30 years?”
As I wrapped up the interview, I added an unsolicited word of advice: “I'd consider just calling them trade agreements, instead of free-trade agreements,” I offered. Gesturing to the shuttered Federal Reserve building behind us, I added: “That's what they want you to call them.”
I returned late Sunday night to drop off some books and see what the “camp” looked like bedded down for the evening, after the usual mobs of tourists had left the area. I was surprised to see that the number of people had grown since the previous day. About 40 or 50 were gathered on Market Street, in sleeping bags and tents. Some brought their dogs; others played guitars. They had a first-aid station, a kitchen, a sanitation system. A nearby Starbucks had been “good about letting us use their bathrooms,” one protester told me. They appeared to be in it for the long-haul.
No, they didn't have poll-tested messaging or polished spokespeople like the Tea Partiers, another grassroots movement with an abundance of top-down messaging courtesy of GOP front groups like FreedomWorks and the Republican PR firm of Russo Marsh and Rogers. But they had something that's become increasingly rare in our political culture: a sense of community, of shared purpose.
As I left them, I couldn't help thinking, "Yes, there's definitely something happening here."
Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet. He is the author of The 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy: And Everything else the Right Doesn't Want You to Know About Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America . Drop him an email or follow him on Twitter .