The massive protests over the weekend in Chicago during the NATO summit have folks wondering if that marked a resurgence of the Occupy Wall Street movement. But I have to tell you, if those demonstrations are any indicator, OWS is going nowhere fast.
Let me give OWS its props. When it burst onto the scene last year, it singlehandedly change the national debate from deficits to the 99 percent and their anger over the excesses of Wall Street. Just like the tea party, OWS is an organic movement that resists having recognized leaders. But unlike the tea party, OWS continues to resist having a clear goal that can be achieved through the political process. And it doesn’t help that it has an aversion to the political process.
Think about it. When the tea party got real angry, folks who adhered to its overarching concerns about federal spending and overreach made their voices heard in protests in Washington. But they weren’t content to simply protest. Whether out of conviction or co-opting by Dick Armey or the Koch brothers, those protesters became office seekers. They upended the Republican establishment by running primary challenges to the right of sitting members of Congress — and winning. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) is the most recent example. They provided the GOP the majority it needed to take back the House in 2010. And their resistance to raising the debt ceiling last summer put the full faith and credit of the United States at risk, called into question House Speaker John Boehner’s ability to control his caucus and forced President Obama to make a debt-ceiling deal that was less than ideal.
For all the power it exhibited last fall in changing the national conversation, I’m hard pressed to see what OWS has accomplished since then. Occupy Chicago had a list of grievances that included protesting Boeing for its role in war, climate change, income inequality, gay rights, women’s rights and foreclosures. All legitimate concerns. But if OWS is going to transition from protest to real political power that translates to the change it says it wants, the movement must field candidates who proudly carry the OWS banner. The Tea Party of the Left, if you will.
Yesterday, I said I didn’t know of any Occupy candidates anywhere in the United States. That’s when I heard from Dick Eiden, a San Diego independent running to oust Rep. Darrell Issa (R) and promising “to lobby for the 99%.” But even he acknowledges the hobbling antipathy OWS has toward the political process.
“As you know, Occupy is generally disdainful of electoral politics — which I have been all my life — and generally refuses to get involved,” Eiden wrote. Yet, because of California’s new open primary system, he’s hopeful that he can edge out the Democrat in the June 5 contest to face Issa in November. “If we beat the Democrat on June 5, I’ll be alone on the ballot with Darrell Issa, icon of the status quo, perfect target for Occupy politics,” he said. “This race could become national — even Occupy could get involved! (just kidding . . sort of).”
If Occupy doesn’t use this time to get actively involved in political process, it will never move from protest to power to achieve the goals it says it has.