There’s a lot of white noise enveloping the Occupy Wall Street movement, but one truth still resonates: OWS has awakened a sleeping giant, and despite tense confrontations, the menacing numbers of riot police, and even the immense gravity of the status quo — it is a positive force in which we can all find strength.
At its core, the movement seeks to reverse the policies that have resulted in mass foreclosures, rampant and unwavering unemployment, skyrocketing student debt, downward mobility and widening economic inequality for 99 percent of Americans. It is about the positive change people desire and deserve as citizens of the richest country in the world. It’s about decency.
The camp in downtown Portland sent a clear message that the massive march and demonstration on Oct. 6 was not a one-off, like so many other protests that bubble up and then simmer down. This is a movement that is here to stay, even if the camp, for the long-term, did not. The camp was a place of daily meetings and concensus gathering, and academic workshops on political issues, including corporate personhood and economics. It wasn’t perfect, but it made a statement 24 hours a day during its existence.
The camp is gone, but perhaps we don’t really need it anymore. This movement has legs, across the country, and its future lies with people flexing their collective muscle. It’s shortsighted to say, as one politician did, that the movement is “just anger and frustration.” Still, that’s a powerful combination, now shared by multiple nationwide unions, including the Teamsters, SEIU, AFL-CIO, United Autoworkers and National Nurses Union, among many other organizations. It is millions in solidarity on issues that are becoming common talking points in city halls and capital buildings across the country.
Mayor Sam Adams has said himself that he hopes the movement doesn’t go away. And he can be a positive part of keeping it in motion. He can start by following through with talk of moving city funds out of the major corporate banks, including Wells Fargo, and into local credit unions. He has pledged to work to peacefully continue the message of the Occupy movement, and he should have the full support of the City Council to be bold, to be a leader within government. This includes passing a resolution calling for the end of corporate personhood policies that have corrupted our democracy and our economy, and overpowered the will of citizens who have been clamoring for change for more than a decade, but who only now have bent the system’s ear.
We can also throw our weight behind the campaign finance reform efforts to end corporations’ freedom to spend unlimited resources to influence elections. The same is true for putting real teeth into banking regulations that institutions have criminally skirted to their great financial gain and our peril. There’s a lot of work to be done.
History has shown us that amazing change can occur when Americans put their minds toward righting social grievances. That giant has been asleep for 30 years. Now that it’s awake, let’s roll up its sleeves. Our anger and frustration may have gotten Wall Street and Washington’s attention, but action is what will hold their feet to the fire.