Occupy Wall Street is still a nascent, amorphous protest movement without a specific policy agenda. But in the movement’s DC offshoot, one target has begun to come into focus: the outsized role of corporate money in politics.
“Corporatism has become the standard, and people forget they’re part of government....it’s power that’s come for sale,” said Brian, a 24-year-old unemployed Maryland resident, who arrived with a backpack to camp out.“Our government has allowed policy, laws and justice to be for sale to the highest bidder.”
A tall, bearded man wearing a black leather vest, Brian declined to give his last name for fear of hurting his employment prospects. But he’s vocal about his desire to fight crony capitalism in the government, arguing that it has allowed deep-pocketed donors to profit from private government and military contracts. He suggested a cap on contributions and campaign spending as one solution. “There needs to be a limit on the amount of money you can spend on elections, or can contribute,” Brian said, accusing politicians of then using the money to host lavish “filet mignon dinners” for other contributors.
Others at Occupy DC echoed similar sentiments. Among the handful of liberal political operatives and policy-types in attendance was William Rice, policy director of Americans for Democratic Action, a national progressive advocacy organization. “I’m hoping to stop the power that corporations are wielding over democracy,” Rice said. His proposals? Overturning Citizens United, making corporate tax system fairer, and ensuring that budget and spending decisions “meet the needs of people rather than corporations.” Rice acknowledges that the movement is still nascent — and Occupy DC’s ranks still small — but feels encouraged. “This is a first step, recognizing there are hundreds of kindred souls. With time it will become more focused.”
But though those gathered for Occupy DC seem to have a lot to agree on, organizers are still hesitant to push forward with a policy agenda too early on. “The fundamental focus is to accumulate as many as possible to raise awareness about the fundamental issues,” said Steven Safak, a University of Maryland student who’s been camped out near McPherson since Friday night. What were those issues? I asked. “Human rights, class differences, equal representation, corporatism,” he answered, adding that there would be another Occupy DC meeting to decide which of these decidedly broad action issues to prioritize. Safak admitted, however, that his personal interest is in combating “the clout that corporations have in the political system,” as well as unequal wealth distribution.
“The first step, maybe we can do mass boycotts of certain banks,” Safak said. In fact, earlier that day, Occupy DC had marched on a local branch of Bank of America, prompting bank officials to go to the police with a security complaint. Participants proudly described the event at the McPherson Square meeting, though I couldn’t get a good sense of what their objectives were or why Bank of America emerged as a specific target. (The bank’s announcement last week of higher debit card fees may have made the company an object of particular scorn.)
If the movement continues to grow, these questions about Occupy Wall Street’s ultimate goals and objectives will continue to surface. But Drew Veysey, a 24-year-old at the DC gathering, says that the target of corporate power should speak for itself at this stage. “It’s far too early to have actual policy steps,” says Veysey, a part-time policy researcher. “We need to be stepping back and getting out of our wonk shoes.”