As police in riot gear swept through makeshift tent cities from sea to shining sea, making arrests and clearing encamped Occupy protesters from public parks, the fast-accelerating new movement was already shifting gears.
Public protests must and will continue, and peaceful civil disobedience will continue to be a selective, effective tool. But prolonged occupations and encampments may no longer be viable, or necessary. Visibility has been firmly established. Now it’s time to take that to the next level, and share a vision.
In most regional and local incarnations nationwide up until now, Occupiers have focused on organizing themselves, establishing sustained visibility, and building consensus on a collective vision of how to create sustainable socioeconomic balance in American society.
Young adults, many of them unemployed or under-employed and deeply in debt, finally got so fed up with feeling unseen and going unheard that they sprang into action, like a legion of tightly coiled springs that had been waiting years for release.
They took to the streets. They camped out in public parks and would not leave. They got in the way of “everyday life” and forced American Media and Politics to see them, hear them and comment on their core concerns.
It started in mid-September in the heart of New York City’s Financial District and spread across the country like an uncontrollable wildfire, fueled by a seemingly endless supply of fresh human kindling, burn victims of the Great Recession.
The young were soon joined by endangered seniors, and by downsized and discarded middle-aged folks. A whole host of public sector employees and other union workers under siege joined in on the protests too. “General Assembly” meetings at each of the Occupy sites gave democratic structure and voice to the movement.
What emerged was the recognition by a vast cross-section of Middle Class – and formerly Middle Class – Americans, a recognition of the enormous mountain of verifiable facts and undeniable evidence that had piled up about who and what was responsible for the 2001-2009 war of attrition waged and largely won against them.
Rather than chasing after George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and all their Big Business and GOP congressional cohorts and enablers, protesters instead targeted the corrupted fiscal foundation underlying the whole rotten house of cards that was the American economy:
Contrary to conservative political and media machine distortions, there has never been confusion within the movement about the Wall Street symbolism. The idea was never to pin all the blame for American economic inequality and unfairness on Wall Street. The idea was to use Wall Street as a symbol of just how far mainstream Middle Class Americans have allowed giant multi-national corporations to go in seizing control of our electoral, legislative, regulatory and economic systems.
The deregulation, lawlessness, collapse and bailout of major financial firms that occurred from 2001-2009, on our taxpaying dimes, symbolizes all that has gone so wrong with the American “way of life” in the twenty-first century.
And so, as facts and figures piled up and The Truth became known, thousands of fresh class warfare victims started waking up to it. They watched for years as mainstream media and Republican Party conservatives elevated irrational Tea Party protests into a supposedly viable “movement”, spinning a phony storyline that portrayed “Big Government”, “Taxes” and “Entitlements” as the real enemies of the Middle Class.
When that first band of young people occupied Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan, they may not have had a carefully prepared legislative agenda or a ready-to-go recipe for reform. But what they did have were the actual facts, a true rather than false narrative of just who had done what to whom.
That true narrative has now successfully been made visible to many more millions of Americans than ever before, thanks to the Occupy movement.
And so as Zuccotti Park and other Occupy encampments nationwide are broken up, the visibility part of the mission has been accomplished. It’s by no means over, and there will be plenty more Occupy street actions and protests in the weeks, months and years to come.
But the forced end of the physical occupation phase of the movement is in no way a defeat, rather, a transition to Phase Two. Phase One has already been won, by offering Main Street America a clear choice of who and what to believe about the cause of our economic collapse, ongoing inequities, and social divisions.
Now, the time has come to share and elaborate on the facts in more direct and personal ways, making them plain, simple and easily digested – using them as the foundation for creating a shared vision of how We The American People are going to regain control of our country.
Now is the time to transition from Occupy Wall Street, to Organize Main Street.
My brother Mark, a longtime resident of Portland, Oregon, put it that way to me on the phone the other day, in describing what had happened to the remaining Occupy protesters in that city’s public parks. Joined in larger and larger numbers by the city’s homeless who were simply seeking whatever food and shelter was available, the occupiers were all finally evicted, a few days ahead of the eviction of Occupy Wall Street campers in NYC.
The generally quite liberal city of Portland is sympathetic to the underlying issues, my brother explained; but they had also grown weary of the occupation and ready for the next phase of the movement. Middle-aged professionals like he and his wife were never going to join Occupy encampments. But they and thousands like them, he explained, are more than ready to join in Organizing Main Street, in going door to door in their own neighborhoods, holding community meetings, sharing facts and vision, creating concrete and viable plans for a genuine, equitable, enduring American Recovery.
Organize Main Street. Has a nice ring to it, kind of like a Liberty Bell for the new millenium…