My Advice To The Occupy Movement

Part of our October series on Jobs & The Economy, featuring written op-ed pieces and Q&As with Delaware’s business, labor and government leaders.

 

Occupy Wall Street has reached a transition point. The mass media is paying attention, and Occupy protests have reached most major cities in America (see John Osborn’s look at Occupy Seattle). As a result, there is much speculation about what needs to happen now to channel the movement’s energy toward achievable goals. Since they asked my opinion (ummm, errrr….), here’s my advice.

 

The focus of the national conversation should be one word: opportunity.

The mounting frustration at the core of the OWS protests is a generation of young people leaving college with six-figure debt and no opportunities. The protests are a product of the fact that the economy just isn’t working for a lot of people. And among those crowds, I’m sure that very few people want a utopian society where every person has the same outcomes. They just want an economy that produces genuine opportunities for people, where a person’s ability and effort create the outcome. (What little openings there are now represent more of what Umair Haque calls McJobs.) Absent those genuine opportunities, it should shock no one that this generation is aiming their protest at those people who have the game rigged in their favor. The number one goal of this movement should be economic reform that creates genuine opportunities for every citizen in America.

Because when we have such vast economic inequality, we’ve failed as a society. The distribution of economic gains over the last 100 years have narrowed to a point where today, the bottom 90% are seeing NO gains, and sometimes even seeing losses. Some of this can be attributed to the rapid rise in the cost of healthcare crowding out income gains, but largely it coincides with the rise of the financial sector as a portion of the economy. I’m not one to call for forced redistribution at the hands of the government, because I think that’s the wrong way to go. What we need are significant structural changes at the institutional level that balance the playing field and increase opportunity. That should become and remain the focus of this energy.

 

Do not align with a political party or organized political movement.

The front page of MoveOn.org yesterday morning.

Let’s be honest here. The Democratic Party is salivating at the idea of usurping a grassroots movement that illuminates the opportunity problem. The Democrats have always been seen as the party of the poor, and have even behaved that way at times. But remember, if you will, that Barack Obama took more Wall Street money in 2008 than any candidate, and then proceeded to fill his economic team with Wall Streeters while failing to prosecute any of the bankers who defrauded the national economy.

If the OWS movement accepts aid or comfort from the Democrats, left-leaning interests or unions, it will be OWS, not Wall Street, that has been occupied. And when you get too close for comfort to injuring the President’s re-election effort, they’ll drop the hammer on you. You’ll go from being an important grassroots movement with a sincere message to a bunch of crazies overnight. So be careful.

Not to mention the fact that there are broad swaths of the population who are Republicans and Independents and are very much simpatico with the idea of leveling the playing field. They will be instantly turned off if they smell a Democratic infiltration. Don’t make the mistake the Tea Party did.

(As an aside, it may be too late. Democratic side group MoveOn.org is already attempting to co-op the OWS movement. And the first press release from the Occupy Delaware movement came from an email address with the handle “[email protected]_____.com.” And it’s not only Democrats. Many of the Ron Paul-libertarian persuasion are attempting the same takeover tactics for their “End the Fed” effort.)

 

John Osborn photo from Occupy Seattle

Stay focused on Wall Street reform.

From extremists like the socialists and anarchists, to more mainstream lefty groups like Bill McKibben’s call to align the Keystone XL opposition with the OWS movement, everyone wants a piece of the energy created by the protests. Don’t let them. Stick to Wall Street, where the reform is needed most.

Everyone from Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi (Break Up the Monopolies) to Maverick Mark Cuban (Limit The Size Of College Loans) has offered specific reforms that OWS can focus on to make a major difference. There’s a lot of possibility in finance reform, and the clarity of that message will go a long way.

 

Use your REAL influence – your money. 

You want to make a real difference over the long haul? Move your money. Or buy some stock and influence shareholder meetings. Or, if you’re a member of a public sector union, lobby your pension fund to use its influence to make changes on Wall Street. (According to wikipedia, the largest 200 pension funds accounted for $4.540 trillion in assets as of September 30, 2009.) Or maybe it’s as simple as buying 10% of your goods locally instead of always buying the cheapest goods Wal-Mart has to offer. We all have the power to use our money to better society, and we all bear some responsibility for where we find ourselves. Here’s to greater awareness making our future choices better than our past choices.

 

Every fifth day of protest, do a service project.

The people who oppose you want to make you look like a bunch of filthy wannabe hippies who crap on cars. It would serve you well to have an occasional organized effort to serve others. The message that would send – people struggling at the bottom of society serving others who are in the same boat – would go a long way toward building positive support for your mission.

 

Perseverance and clarity 

In the end, Occupy Wall Street is an amplification of the struggle that’s taking place in much of America, and the message is important for people to hear. The pitfalls are many, however, and a leaderless grassroots movement is very difficult to sustain. It takes a great perseverance and a clarity of mission – a clarity that has yet to appear in this effort. I, for one, wish the Occupy movement success in building a national conversation about the future of opportunity in America.

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About the Contributor

Dave Burris

Dave Burris provides Internet solutions like WordPress websites, social media training and email marketing for locally-owned, independent small businesses. Learn more about Dave and his company, Burris Digital, at DaveBurris.com.

7 Comments

  • Solid article Dave!!  Your points hit the mark on several areas of the movement.  I saw where MoveOn.Org was drooling to hi-jack this event.  Would not be good for freedom or opportunity should this occur.

    My belief is that 2 specific changes need to happen in America for it to be great once again. 

    The first is a significant reduction in Federal Government power & spending. (A return to Constitutional levels would be great) including military spending & foreign aid programs.

    Secondly (as a result of #1) Reduction or elimination of the wage tax.  This would vastly fuel two areas.  Consumption & investment – Both which fuel a free market system & with the reductions noted in step one, we would move much closer to such a system once again.

    Opportunity for the OWS youngsters would flourish.  America would begin to be great again.

    Thank you for your views & keep up the good work.

  • Why do people always cite income inequality as being inherently a bad thing? What ratio is proper for a society? Please, I beg you to come up with a proper ratio that is good for all, and please take into account, um, every single economic policy that is currently in play and how your ratio will deal with all those intermixes.

    To call this game “rigged” is giving way too much credence to the genius of the enemy, The One Percenters. The game is rigged by default by how inept the great mass of the population is that don’t understand basic economic principles. “Buying goods locally” continues to be heralded as noble/right/correct. It might be worthwhile to argue against this except the concept of the gains of trade is so elementary that the insistence by the author of its useful novelty is just more credence that…

    Voters who don’t understand economics vote -> Bad economy results -> Voters are mad at rich people….but only to seem like they’re not just jealous, they’re mad at the ridiculously rich, not just the working really hard and marking money rich.

    The real ailment of our economy is one to which no tangible solution can be produced. It’s simply lack of optimism. No study can really show this explicitly, but what really did happen to our country? Did value go missing? Did a bunch of wealth get bombed? Nothing actually happened. We just all believed that something happened. Then we started believing this was not the beginning, it would get worse…so we cut back our spending. We started pointing fingers at people that were spending, so they cut back their spending too. And things got worse. Surprise!

  • ” I’m not one to call for forced redistribution at the hands of the government, because I think that’s the wrong way to go. What we need Karen significant structural changes at the institutional level that balance the playing field and increase opportunity. That should become and remain the focus of this energy.”

    I don’t see how student indebtedness can be alleviated by Wall St institutional reform alone. Wealth redistribution is required to achieve that end. Besides, I don’t think the “core” of the movement is about that end alone. The core is more general than that. It’s about income and wealth inequality in the US in general and how wealthy elites have rigged the nation’s politics and economy to serve primarily their interests.

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