My friend, New York radio personality Jeff Foxx likes to say that we live in a “microwave society,” meaning we expect everything to happen instantly. The truth to that sentiment can be seen in how many New Yorkers reacted to the Occupy Wall Street encampment in lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park. After just two short months, residents and many in the larger public had grown weary of the protest and simply wished the demonstrators would go away. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, one of the princes of profit, obliged the movement’s critics and staged an overnight assault on the demonstrators that will go down as one of the most shameful episodes of overly aggressive policing in the city’s history.
Now that Bloomberg has expelled the protesters who the mayor claimed could not win the public debate with words, though he resorted to force, some people foolishly believe that the Occupy Wall Street movement is dead. The removal of demonstrators from Zuccotti Park is actually the best thing that could have happened to the nascent movement. It was growing stale in its self-imposed containment in the small plot of land that only New Yorkers could claim as a “park,” and it needed to be reinvigorated. The demonstrations in the city following the police action breathed new life into Occupy Wall Street and should now force those who have aired grievances to consider the many pathways available to effect change in our nation.
Too many people have written off Occupy Wall Street as some misguided, “liberal,” sentimental journey back to the 1960s. What it represents is the pent up frustration of Americans who have grown weary of the excesses of private capital and the lack of accountability of government; it is neither Democrat nor Republican, but includes a wide cross-section of folks who simply have had enough. Those on the right who try to tar the movement with the “L” word (liberal) will be surprised by the number of Republicans in the crowd. Just as Republican lawmakers are learning how many of their constituents are tired of their sophomoric opposition to adjusting the tax code to make rates more equitable. Democrats would be foolish to assume that the Occupy Wall Street movement is a ready-to-go progressive pipeline feeding their electoral fortunes. It is not. While many in Occupy Wall Street shout the 99% battle cry, what is driving the angst of these protesters is beyond partisan sensibilities.
America is in trouble and the broader public is finally beginning to realize it. The complacency we have been complaining about for decades is being shaken off, as regular folks are now focusing with laser like precision on decisions in government and corporate board rooms that are crushing dreams and causing undue hardships. What is unique about Occupy Wall Street is that it is not the usual suspects that the right can simply dismiss as irrelevant and the left can embrace in a paternalistic way – African Americans, Latinos, and the poor. The faces in these crowds across the country are white, middle class, conservative and liberal. They are insurance brokers, construction workers, small business owners, teachers, veterans, white collar professionals and union members. Occupy Wall Street is the America that had punched its ticket, bought the “dream,” and was seemingly secure in the tranquility of relative prosperity. This protest was not borne on the corner of Broad and Market or 125th Street and Lenox Avenue; it has its origins in suburban cul-de-sacs and among soccer moms. This is a movement that is in reaction to an America that was promised and not delivered.
History teaches us that movements that mattered – abolitionist, civil rights, ant-war, feminist, gay rights – were neither neat nor quick. In fact, they were painful, costly and some continue to be waged on various levels of our society. Change in America is not expedient. What Occupy Wall Street must do now is digest the multiple grievances that have been aired and come to some consensus as to its priorities. It will inevitably lose some supporters, and that’s alright. Despite the mythology of the civil rights movement, not everyone was on board and many resisted the call for change. To truly effect change Occupy Wall Street must accept that it needs a leadership structure; not a charismatic personality but individuals who are entrusted with the responsibility to build a movement. It is doubtful that Dr. King would have been successful in his role as the face of the civil rights movement had it not been for the likes of Bayard Rustin, Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker, Andy Young, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Coretta Scott King, Rev. Ralph Abernathy, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and many others. Movements are not microwaveable, they are best slow cooked with many hands stirring the pot.
So, my advice to Occupy Wall Street is to soldier on. There will be setbacks along the way but any honorable cause requires patience and the faith that at the end of the day your “words” will win the battle.
Walter Fields is Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com.