One of the enduring questions about Occupy Wall Street has been this: Can the energy unleashed by the movement be leveraged behind a concrete political agenda and push for change that will constitute a meaningful challenge to the inequality and excessive Wall Street influence highlighted by the protests?
A coalition of labor and progressive groups is about to unveil its answer to that question. Get ready for “Occupy Congress.”
The coalition — which includes unions like SEIU and CWA and groups like the Center for Community Change — is currently working on a plan to bus thousands of protesters from across the country to Washington, where they will congregate around the Capitol from December 5-9, SEIU president Mary Kay Henry tells me in an interview.
“Thousands of people have signed up to come to Capitol Hill during the first week in December,” Henry says, adding that protesters are invited to make their way to Washington on their own, too. “We’re figuring out buses and transportation now.”
One idea under consideration — pending various permitting and other logistical issues — is to have a series of tents set up on the lawn outside the Capitol, each representing a state, with the number of unemployed in each state prominently displayed. But the optics are still being worked out.
One goal of the protests, Henry says, is to pressure Republicans to support Obama’s jobs creation proposals. More generally, the aim is to highlight Congress’s misguided obsession with the deficit and overall inaction on unemployment.
“We’re taking about it as an effort to take back the Capitol,” Henry says. “It would be great if we could build pressure that goes beyond the jobs act.”
Of course, Occupy Wall Street is distinguished by its organic, bottom-up nature and its critique of both parties’ coziness with Wall Street. Does a coordinated effort by labor and liberal groups to channel the movement’s energy into pressuring one party risk compromising the essence of what’s driven the protests?
Henry said she wasn’t worried about that happening, noting that Occupy Wall Street had created a “framework” — which she described as “we are the 99 percent” — within which such activities would fit comfortably.
“The reason we’re targeting Republicans is because this is about jobs,” she said. “The Republicans’ insistence that no revenue can be put on the table is the reason we’re not creating jobs in this country. We want to draw a stark contrast between a party that wants to scapegoat immigrants, attack public workers, and protect the rich, versus a president who has been saying he wants America to get back to work and that everybody should pay their fair share.”
But Henry added she salutes Occupy Wall Street for finding fault with both parties, adding: “We agree that on domestic social programs, we have not won the day with either party. And we are applying pressure to both.”