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The First Political Victory for the 99% Movement

The unsung victors in the hottest election of 2011? Occupy Wall Street.

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It was as if a great tide had lifted the pro-repeal forces in a way you only fully grasped if you were there. Organizers and volunteers had a spring in their step that hadn’t been evident in Wisconsin this summer during the recall elections of nine state senators targeted for their actions during  the fight over Governor Scott Walker’s own anti-union law. Nearly everywhere I went in Ohio, people could be counted on to mention two things: the 99% -- that is, the gap between the rich and poor -- and the importance of protecting the rights of the cops and firefighters targeted by Kasich's law.

And not just voters or local activists either.  I heard it from union leaders as well. Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, told me that her union had recruited volunteers from 15 different states for the final get-out-the-vote effort in Ohio. That, she assured me, wouldn't have happened without the energy generated by OWS. And when Henry herself went door-to-door in Ohio to drum up support for repealing SB 5, she said that she could feel its influence in home after home. "Every conversation was in the context of the 99% and the 1%, this discussion sparked by Occupy Wall Street."

This isn't to take anything away from labor's own accomplishments in Ohio. We Are Ohio, the labor-funded coalition that led the effort, collected nearly 1.3 million signatures this summer to put the repeal of SB 5 on the November ballot.  (They needed just 230,000.) The group outspent its opponents $30 million to $8 million, a nearly four-to-one margin. And in the final days before the November 8th victory, We Are Ohio volunteers knocked on a million doors and made nearly a million phone calls. In the end, a stunning 2.14 million Ohioans voted to repeal SB 5 and only 1.35 million to keep it, a  61% to 39% margin. There were repeal majorities in 82 of Ohio's 88 counties,  support that cut across age, class, race, and political ideologies.

Nonetheless, it’s undeniable that a mood change had hit Ohio -- and in a major way. Pro-worker organizers and volunteers benefited from something their peers in Wisconsin lacked: the wind of public opinion at their backs.  Polls conducted in the run-up to Ohio's November 8th vote  showed large majorities of Ohioans agreeing that income inequality was a problem. What's more, 60% of respondents in a  Washington Post-ABC poll said the federal government should act to close that gap. Behind those changing numbers was the influence of Occupy Wall Street and other Occupy protests.

So, as the debate rages over what will happen to Occupy Wall Street after its eviction from Zuccotti Park, and some "experts" sneer at OWS and tell it to get real, just direct their attention to Ohio. Kasich's anti-union law might still be on the books if not for the force of OWS. And if the Occupy movement survives Mayor Bloomberg's eviction order and the winter season, if it regroups and adapts to life beyond Zuccotti Park, you can bet it will notch more political victories in 2012.

 

Andy Kroll, an associate editor at TomDispatch, is a reporter for Mother Jones magazine. He lives in Washington, D.C.  To listen to him discuss the geometry of delusion in the Ponzi Era on the latest TomCast audio interview, click here, or download it as a podcast by clicking here.

 
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