The Occupy Movement means different things to different people. It’s far too early to know exactly what these protests will or won’t turn into; they are simply too new to predict.
One thing is clear, however: this movement represents a critique of modern life in the United States of America, of our systems of economic and political power.
And that is a very useful starting place.
A Bigger Frame for Social Change
America’s “professional” social change community is not driving the Occupy Movement. It is out of their hands; as though this new group of (mostly) younger activists stepped in, stripped the ball away and simply said: “Enough. Let me try it my way.”
Their critique of American society frames our social and environmental problems with a different lens than many of the social change institutions formally dedicated to addressing these same issues. The Occupy Movement frames these problems – and there are a wide range of them – by tying them to the same root cause: the increasing concentration of wealth in this country and the corruptive influence it has over our institutions of economic and political power.
The Occupy Movements sees the futility of trying to address our myriad of social and environmental problems as anything other than symptoms of this root cause, this cancer that is already well metastasized throughout our culture.
Simply put, the Occupy Movement is about shifting the object of our attention upstream.
Reframing the Tea Party
Many have drawn superficial comparisons to the Tea Party, calling the Occupy Movement the “Tea Party of the Left.” I disagree strongly with this kind of framing, because it obscures more than it reveals about what is actually going on here, both in what this movement represents and how it is actually organizing itself.
With that said, however, I do believe there are two similarities worth noting.
The first similarity between the Tea Party and the Occupy Movement is that both provide an easy-to-understand frame to explain why so many people in this country are struggling so badly right now. For the Tea Party, that frame is big government as the problem. For the Occupy Movement, that frame is the concentration of wealth and its corruptive influence on business and government.
There are also real cultural differences between Tea Partiers and Occupiers that make it extremely unlikely they will ever join forces, and on the surface, their frames couldn’t appear to be more different. Dig a little deeper though, and it’s entirely possible that the Occupy frame could actually subsume the Tea Party frame. All that needs to happen is for Tea Partiers to make the connection between the concentration of wealth and its take over of America’s democratic institutions. Again, these two forces are unlikely to ever join forces, but if this link is made, the already strong anti-elitist and anti-corporate element of the Tea Party’s grassroots will suddenly have a new target for their anti-government rhetoric.
The Heart of the Matter
The second way in which the Occupy Movement is similar to the Tea Party is that it is a source of inspiration for others with similar views. Again, it’s still early in the Occupy Movement, but in my view, it already seems to be giving others the courage to stick their necks out. That might mean actually joining in on the demonstrations or supporting them in other ways, or even just having the courage to send stories about the Occupy Movement to your social networks.
Whatever form it takes, I believe this group of brave people holding the center is what makes it feel safer for the rest of us to begin asking hard questions – and that… that, is the real purpose of these protests.
Like new-born hearts, beating and radiating from many locations and in all directions, these people now gathering in city after city are the first brave souls to stand up. That is how this revolution begins. No violence. No retribution. Just a decision to walk off the field of a soul-numbing consumer society, and move to a new one, as proud citizens, ready to once again shape the laws and customs of this great land.
So here is to the ninety-nine percenters – the ones who have already taken their courageous first stands, and the ones now about to stand up. God bless you all.