Occupy Wall Street's Remarkable Success
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Most unusual is the nature of the organization. As a group, they are determined not to have leaders, only “facilitators.” No one seeks to dominate or is allowed to dominate. They like especially the word horizontal. No hierarchies here. All of this is part of their determination to be inclusive.
Many observers are frustrated that they do not seem to have a clearer agenda or to make specific demands. But they have issued a set of principles or assertions. Among them, “They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage,” and “They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.” There are some two dozen such assertions they unanimously approved on September 29 and they say it is not a complete list of the concerns of those among them. They are determined, as I say, to be inclusive. But they are concerned that a specific agenda or a list of demands may shut people out or misrepresent too many.
Over this past weekend, I and others met with a few of their representatives privately. Several of them have advanced degrees. What struck me immediately is how thoughtful they are. They want to make a different kind of protest. Time and again, they make clear their devotion to this principle of inclusiveness and horizontal organization. And they are right now gathering strength around the world. There is no pressing reason for them to come up with a formal agenda. They have voice. Even Washington has to listen.
I also think it is likely their direct influence on the nation’s lawmakers and the media is underestimated. Senators talk about a millionaires’ tax. Morning Joe talks about whether banks should be broken up or nationalized. Nancy Pelosi does not fear talking on national television about the protestors in complimentary ways. There is now a new institution to answer to, and its essence is its “non-institutionality.”
But soon it will get cold in Zuccotti Park. The protesters may also face the more practical problems of sit-ins: frictions with the police that could escalate, infiltrators from the outside, a loss of control in general. Eventually they will have to make tougher decisions. They seem to know this.
I think they want to go wherever they perceive serious injustice and bring attention to the matter. If it is unfair foreclosures, they may well be there. Shedding light on the matter may be enough. But at some point, at the least, they will probably have to develop specific demands, or perhaps a set of desired reforms. There is a lot to do in America: a true jobs policy, more serious regulation of Wall Street, mortgage relief, tax increases (eventually), a truly reformed health system, a meaningful energy policy, more equal educational possibilities, and student loan relief.
They haven’t spelled out a list such as this one for the reasons I mention above. But so much is changing so fast, this too could change. The protesters are eager to hear from many people on the issues and policy options facing the nation. I will go back down to do another teach-in or two. I feel lucky to be witnessing this. It is one of the exciting social experiments of our time. And it shows how our conventional institution—Congress, think tanks, the media—did not reach the deep concerns of the American people. It shows that our democracy has been stunted. It took this group of mostly young people with an empathic vision about American suffering to build an institution spontaneously that expresses the grievances and concerns of what must be the majority of Americans.