Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Power is In the Street

More political power lies in the street than is ever acknowledged by the media, or by politicians.   This is the context in which we should be seeing the Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Boston and Occupy Washington.

By "the street", I mean people turning out with their bodies to make a political statement in a public place.  They don't have to be "ordinary" people, in the sense that they were previously not politically active to be very effective.

People turning out in the public square have had a great effect on our politics for the last twenty years.

What?

Weren't the days of the big demonstrations over in the 60's?

Some recent history:

1. 1994:  The Clinton Administration planned a bus tour to rally uninsured people to support the health care reform bill he had submitted.  The bus tour was to start in Seattle.  By the second stop, GOP activists had turned out in the street to meet the tour in opposition to what they called Hillarycare.  Their opposition was so fierce that the bus tour was abandoned.  (What would have happened if more people had turned in support of health care reform?)

2. In 2000, the GOP turned out people to oppose the Dade County recount in the Bush-Gore battle.  They were fierce enough to stall the recount, eventually running out the clock so that the Supreme Court could deliver the election to Bush.  (what would have happened if the Democrats had been as willing to mobilize people in the streets instead of relying solely on lawyers.  What if Democrats had followed the lead of Jesse Jackson and Florida's African American leaders and pursued the missing overvotes in GOP counties with large African American populations.

3. In 2009, the Health Care battles again.  The GOP and the Tea Party turned out people for the Congressional Town Halls to oppose Health Care Reform.  The narrative shifted and Democrats on Capitol Hill started getting cautious and the final passage was delayed of a weakened bill.  The Town Hall mobilizations set the narrative that culminated in the 2010 mid-term elections.  The Town Hall mobilizations gave reality to the Tea Party.

Not all history is on the other side:

1.  Cindy Sheehan camped outside of George Bush's pseudo-ranch and wanted to know why her son died in Iraq -- why did we invade Iraq?.  I count the end of the Bush administration from that moment.

2.  Madison, Wisconsin 2011.  Need I say more?  People occupying the Capitol broke the narrative of the Tea Party and began to create another story: working class people fighting back against GOP plans for austerity.

What is the main narrative right now in our politics?  The story in the news media is the story of the GOP trying to escape the extreme demands of the Tea Party and nominate someone who might be able to beat Obama.  The President proposes a jobs bill and Congress stonewalls him, but the news media is entirely focused on the ever growing collection of oddballs that might be persuaded to run for the GOP nomination.

Those that Occupy tell a different story: the 99% are standing up.  The real issue that the political class will have to deal with is that people are mad, not about deficits and spending and "illegal" immigrants and evolution and vaccines against HPV, but at foreclosures, and service cutbacks, and lowered wages, and declining benefits, and massive unemployment.  They are furious at the further abandonment of the poor and the impoverishment of the middle class.  They are mad because the political elite believes that the poor have too much money while the rich have too little. They are enraged that the elite believes the ordinary people feel "entitled" to too much security while the wealthy are beset with crippling "uncertainty."   They are angry at Wall Street, the finance capitalists who rule this country, channel investments toward companies that eliminate jobs and destroy small businesses for paper profits.

The only place that this new story is being told, the only place it can be told, is in the street.  And when it is told, it will change our political discourse.  It will have power.

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