I confess I have been watching the Occupy protests worldwide with mingled pride and nostalgia. I remember being in grade school in the mid-1960s as the campus protest movements took steam, and knew even then that I was watching something momentous and earth-shifting in the making (despite my uncle's caustic background rants about how all those filthy, useless, long-haired hippie freaks ought to get a haircut).
The spirit animating the Occupy movement feels to me much like that behind the anti-war and civil rights movements of the 1960s: a shared interest in advancing human justice, around what is shaping up now to be today's central issue - economics and the corporate hostage-taking of what we all used to know as "the common good." These outpourings worldwide are not an astroturfed effort quietly fronted by a well-heeled lobbying organization (yes, Tea Party, I'm looking at you), nor a precisely orchestrated political convention populated by entrenched establishment types. This is a genuine grassroots movement. You can see that in the diversity of those it has attracted to the streets: all ages, all genders, all ethnicities, all occupations (except, perhaps, hedge fund manager). You can see it in the genuine character of all those hand-lettered signs.
And you can certainly see it in the rush by the right wing to de-legitimize Occupy, first with their baffled cries of "What do they want? Where are their concrete suggestions?" (apparently the phrase "economic justice" isn't in their dictionary) and then with the fearmongering by the likes of Glenn Beck to try and cast Occupy as a dangerous, deadly mob of malcontents. All those people in the streets are no longer quietly compliant about the misinformation bomb we've been pushing back at here, on Newshounds, and elsewhere, for years. And no longer are they afraid, of color-coded terror alerts or, frankly, even of police response and arrests. This is a movement with guts, and it makes the wingnut Wurlitzer-operators crazy that they can't either shut them up, or terrify them sufficiently not to call bullshit by its real name when they see it unfolding.
I hear a lot of people, even in my immediate family, making the argument that Occupy's best opportunity is ultimately at the ballot box, and working the system rather than taking to the streets to try and change the rules. I disagree.
The system, for one thing, has been so thoroughly rigged over these past decades to be beholden to the moneyed class and to a corporate-friendly/corporate-funded agenda, it is never going to change from within at this stage. I don't care who you put up for office or how progressive their policy thinking might appear: as long as the American political landscape depends on multi-month or even multi-year campaigns, and the crazy artificiality of pandering to obscure early-primary states like Iowa, any viable candidate will have had to acquire a huge chunk of campaign change just to be able to cut through the noise, much less have a real shot at electoral success. Honest campaign finance reform, previously given lip service to but never truly enforced, has been off the table for a while now, and nobody's going to put it back there anytime soon. The system runs on money, and it's not in the interest of any incumbents to change that for a more egalitarian model.
Second, when there have been seismic shifts in the social landscape before, they have never achieved success by playing the game as written. Look at the French and American Revolutions - how successful would they have been had the disaffected sat politely down with the aristocracy or the British to hammer out a compromise? Look at the rising union movement in the early 1900s - in a 1911 memorial speech following the disastrous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, an activist put it very succinctly when she said, "I can't talk fellowship to you who are gathered here. Too much blood has been spilled. I know from my experience it is up to the working people to save themselves. The only way they can save themselves is by a strong working-class movement." Look at the persistence of the civil rights marchers of the Sixties, making themselves a thorn in the side of segregationists: had they not taken to the streets and stayed there with such tenacity, and spoken out with such fervor, we might well today still be looking at separate drinking fountains and the back of the bus.
No, the genius of Occupy so far is that it operates outside the corridors of power in order to make the point that we're tired of polishing them for the Italian-shod 1%. And, also, that it is finding strategies to be an ongoing rather than a fleeting presence. Rallies, once concluded and off our radar, are like county fairs or one-time concerts: out of sight for long enough, they become out of mind. Occupy by its nature cannot be dismissed because it is there and Not Going Away. And the longer it persists, the more it works to change the dialogue and the agenda, motivating voices otherwise of obstruction to sit up, take notice, and feel a keen motivation to preserve themselves by giving the people what they demonstrably, implacably, want.
Sometimes, it takes even a peaceful, non-violent crowd of peasants with torches to storm the castle. In Occupy, I think that's exactly what we've got...and not a moment too soon.