A while back, towards the beginning of Occupy Wall Street, I wrote a post called Connecting The Dots, in which I made the case that public anger at the banksters’ astonishingly audacious fraud and greed and sense of entitlement had not gone away in 2008 because the country (mostly the incoming administration) consciously chose not to pursue the worst excesses of the banksters which led up to the collapse of 2008 and the Great Recession in general. I argued that the country had been ripe for the kind of game-changing conversation that can happen only when circumstances are exactly right. Most times, when things are up a little or down a little, wide-ranging, serious conversations about the nature of how things are actually structured and who benefits versus who “loses” are simply not possible. For such a conversation to occur, conditions must be such that the average person is already thinking that they system itself (as opposed to any one smaller piece of it) has failed, badly.
In Connecting The Dots, I argued that in the fall of 2008 – and into the early portion of the Obama administration – the country was not only ready for such a once-in-a-generation conversation, it actually was yearning for one, because the traditional tales had all turned out to be bogus at best, and ordinary people were suffering while Wall Street partied on the taxpayer’s dime. And I followed that argument up by saying that the eruption of not just the Occupy Wall Street protests, but other seemingly non-related (in any official sense) protests like one out in California called Make Banks Pay California all sprang from the same well: the sense that we had missed, as a country, having that conversation we desperately needed to have.
Some of the people who read the post, both in comments and on Twitter, replied that the two were apples and oranges, that OWS was just a bunch of unfocused hippies who didn’t know what they wanted and who wouldn’t get much done as a result. I think it would be fair to say that the simple passing of time and events could stand as a fairly good refutation of such a charge: OWS has forced even Republican leaders to talk in a serious way about income inequality. Rachel Maddow noted this on her program a few nights ago. She pointed out that the editors of the Manchester Union-Leader, a right-wing newspaper who in the past had endorsed both Steve Forbes and Pete DuPont (two enormously wealthy men, scions of well-known American wealth-dynasties), admitted in front of news cameras that their choice of Newt Gingrich (instead of Mitt Romney) was made at least in part based on a calculation that it was going to be “Obama’s 99% vs. the 1%, and Mitt Romney represents the 1%.” As Maddow correctly noted, that’s a heck of a statement for such an avowedly pro-1% paper to make. The Union-Leader hasn’t changed their political stripes as a result of Occupy Wall Street – they still back both policies and candidates who are pro-1% at the expense of everyone else. What has changed is they’re now willing to publicly acknowledge that openly advocating for a Richy-Rich candidate might wind up with a GOP loss in 2012. I’m sure the editors at the UL feel certain that a President Gingrich would be just as pro-1% as a President Romney (perhaps even more so)…so it’s easy for them to make a switch to Gingrich in that sense. But make no mistake, as Maddow pointed out: the reason for the switch (one of the main ones, anyway) is a very cold-eyed political calculation that the average voter is now paying attention to things like income inequality and the abuses of the banksters. Ask yourself: would voters, or the editors of the Manchester U-L, or anyone else who doesn’t already think about such things, be worrying about income inequality or any of the rest of it without OWS? I seriously doubt it.
So, in that sense, the objections I received about OWS’ likely relevance or impact have already been refuted by observable events already. But I wanted to write this post to point to yet another encouraging phenomenon that appears to be happening, which is more directly related to my original Connecting The Dots post. Namely: the explicit, intentional convergence of the very two previously separate forces I used as examples in that post, Occupy Wall Street and the anti-foreclosure activist movement:
Occupy Wall Street is promising a “big day of action” Dec. 6 that will focus on the foreclosure crisis and protest “fraudulent lending practices,” “corrupt securitization,” and illegal evictions by banks.
The day will mark the beginning of an Occupy Our Homes campaign that organizers hope will energize the movement as it moves indoors as well as bring the injustices of the economic crisis into sharp relief.
Like many of the Occupy actions that have focused on specific policy questions, this one is being organized by established progressive and labor-affiliated groups along with their allies in the movement. Among the allied groups listed on Occupy Our Homes’ website, for example, are the New Bottom Line and New York Communities for Change. On the Occupy Wall Street side of things, members of the direct action working group and the movement-building group in New York have been involved in the project.
The intent of my original post regarding OWS and other, perhaps “more traditional” organizing groups, was not to disparage the latter. Quite the contrary, it was to point out that these separate streams of consciousness and action were in fact often motivated by similar things and aimed in similar directions. But many of these “more traditional” groups have been plugging along, doing their thing in their one siloed area (health care, labor, environmentalism) for years, sometimes even decades, with some, but limited, success. My point was that it takes a Moment (yes, with a capital M) in history when conditions are right, as well as a group that can recognize it and shake up the everyday flow of things, to allow the efforts of these groups to make a quantum leap (instead of a measured step) forward. Occupy Wall Street is that group.