The question confronting the Occupy Wall Street encampments and their offshoots in scores of cities and towns around the country is quo vadis? Where is it going?
This decentralized, leaderless civic initiative has attracted the persistent attention of the mass media in the past five weeks. Television cameras from all over the world are parked down at Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan, two blocks from Wall Street.
But the mass media is a hungry beast. It needs to be fed regularly. Apart from the daily pressures of making sure the encampments are clean, that food and shelter are available, that relations with the police are quiet, that provocateurs are identified; the campers must anticipate possible police crackdowns, such as that which has just occurred in Oakland, and find ways to rebound.
There are enough national polls showing broader support for the Occupy people than for the Tea Party people. Additional communities are installing their own Occupy sites right down to small towns like Niles, Michigan (pop. 12,000) and Bethel, Alaska where Diane McEachern is occupying the tundra. But, there is trouble ahead.
First, police departments in other cities will be observing the nature and reaction of mass arrests in places like Denver, Chicago and Atlanta. The plutocrats’ first response is always to push police power against the people. The recidivist violations of the ruling class are rarely pursued, yet the rumbles of the lower class are often stifled. With the onset of colder weather and looming police pressure, the protestors need new venues for their demonstrations
Activists need to vary their tactics. I suggest citizens surround the local offices of their Senators and Representatives. The number of Americans fed up with a gridlocked Congress, beset by craven or cowardly, both marinated in corporate campaign cash, can motivate an endless pool of activists who want their voices to be heard.
We know that the Occupy people want to keep their opposition on a general level of informed outrage and not get to the specific policy level. Fine. The 535 people in Congress, who put their shoes on every day like we do, are quite susceptible to a fast rising rumble from the people. They don’t need specifics. They know all about the savagely avaricious corporate paymasters and their swarming lobbyists on Capitol Hill wanting ever more varieties of goodies and less corporate law enforcement. What they need to know is that you’ve got their number and that people are fed up and on the move.
More members of Congress than one might expect, with their finger to the wind, start readjusting their antennas when they sense voter agitation. It is just that for years, there has been nary a breeze from that crucial source, while the corporatists have had their party year after year with their governmental toadies on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Make no mistake; support for the power shift espoused by the 99 percent movement is now only a breeze but a windstorm is coming. The protesters are feeling their way — demonstrating before big banks and closing out their accounts in favor of smaller community banks. Protests in front of the Manhattan mansions of the superrich from the big media and the big hedge funds also make sense.
Each new protest gives the protesters new insights. The protestors are learning how to challenge controlling processes. They are assembling and using their little libraries on site. They are learning the techniques of open, non-violent civil disobedience and building personal stamina. They are learning not to be provoked and thereby win the moral authority struggle which encourages more and more people to join their ranks.
In the Arab Spring of Cairo, Egypt earlier this year, it was said that a million people in Tahrir Square lost their fear of the dictatorship. It can be said that in this “American Autumn,” some 150,000 people have discovered their power and rejected apathy. They have come far in so little time because the soil for their pushback is so fertile, nourished by the revulsion of millions of their countrypersons moving toward standing up and showing up themselves.
This vanguard of larger protests to come is building on the personal stories of desperate but failed attempts to find work; stories of heart-breaking inability to pay for healthcare for themselves or their families’; stories of being defrauded of their pensions, their tax dollars, their savings and their rights. They demand accountability for the culprits who lied, stole and got away with it destroying the economy. And they want Congress to never bailout the Wall Street crooks, swindlers and speculators with taxpayer dollars.
Shining the light of the 99 percenters on the operations base of the corporate supremacists and their Congressional minions in one location after another both empowers and further informs those Americans who are seeing that showing up is half of democracy.
Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!