social movement

#OccupyWallStreet: Perfectly Coherent

by: Jonathan Matthew Smucker

Sat Oct 15, 2011 at 15:42 PM EDT


General Assembly in Iowa City

Much has been made by some news outlets and pundits about the supposed "incoherence" of the Occupy Wall Street protests. "The protesters" don't have a coherent message, we are told. They can't even agree on any solutions. What the heck are they proposing?

This angle is wrong-headed. The strongest and most successful social movements in history have always tapped into multiple concerns that are important to different swaths of society, and often articulated in different ways. It's not typically the responsibility of a broad movement to propose specific policy solutions — at least not at this stage in the process. It's on us to create pressure to move society in a direction. When we do that successfully, windows will open to fight for this or that specific change. The bigger a movement we grow, the more pressure we create, the more substantial and meaningful those windows for measurable gains become.

And historical perspective is not all that's wrong with the "incoherence" frame. There's a pretty damn clear coherence to Americans' anger at Wall Street right now. If it doesn't upset you that the top 1% is still making record-high profits and paying record-low taxes while the rest of us struggle just to survive, then I don't know that I'll be able to explain it to you. But I think most people feel it in their gut. That's why us being here is resonating with so many people. That's why this movement is drawing so much attention, and why I think it's going to continue to gain momentum over time.

The momentum is really starting to spread beyond the "usual suspects". It's important to emphasize and encourage this. For example, while coastal occupation actions have drawn the most media attention so far, actions are also happening all across "Middle America", from Ashland, Kentucky to Dallas, Texas to Ketchum, Idaho.

I just heard a first hand report about four hundred Iowans marching in Des Moines, Iowa today as part of the October 15 international day of action. I'm working on the press team here at Occupy Wall Street, and I just got the chance to talk on the phone with Judy Lonning a 69-year-old retired public school teacher who participated in the Des Moines action today. Here's what she had to say:

People are suffering here in Iowa. Family farmers are struggling, students face mounting debt and fewer good jobs, and household incomes are plummeting. We're not willing to keep suffering for Wall Street's sins. People here are waking up and realizing that we can't just go to the ballot box. We're building a movement to make our leaders listen.

Cheers to that.

Discuss :: (1 Comments)

Book Review: The Big Sort (part 1)

by: Jonathan Matthew Smucker

Sat Jan 01, 2011 at 09:00 AM EST

"How could Bush have possibly won?! I don't know anyone who voted for him!"

"How could Obama have possibly won?!  I don't know anyone who voted for him!"

Depending on where you live and who you associate with, you're likely to have heard some version of one or the other of the above two quotes (in 2004 or 2008, respectively).

That's because over the past few decades we've migrated and rearranged our lives to surround ourselves with people who think pretty much just like us - and we've effectively phased out the folks who don't share our opinions and tastes.  We've chosen our neighborhoods, religious congregations (or lack thereof), civic and political organizations, the cultural spaces we frequent, and our friendship circles so that we can experience our worldview reflected back to us and minimize dissonance.

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