I’ve been watching the #occupy movement pretty much since it started about a month ago, first from retweets from some of my friends, next on facebook and now finally in the mainstream media. Some of my more liberal friends and liberal bloggers that I read are getting incredibly excited, saying that they believe that the #occupy movement “has staying power” or “is the start of a sea change.” Many conservatives are dismissing #occupy as nothing more than “a bunch of lazy, dirty hippies with no jobs looking to party.” Some are calling it “a very privileged protest.”
I think conservatives are wrong to simply dismiss the protesters as lazy and looking for handouts. Our economy has become incredibly unbalanced over the past few decades. Wall Street, large corporations and the already rich are able to take advantage of advances in technology, government policy and changes in how the economy works to make huge sums of money, while firing US based employees or moving production offshore. Those without skills or cash have not been able to. The vast majority of people are struggling.
When recession hit, the government bailed out Wall Street at the expense of Main Street, stimulated “preferred” industries and passed bills approved (maybe even written) by lobbyists. We have a dysfunctional government led by a President who is unwilling or unable to lead, a Republican obstructionist Congress with no clear message and ineffective Democratic opposition. We now have close to 25% un/underemployment. People are angry and scared.
I see huge parallels between the #occupy protests and The Tea Party. When the Tea Party First started, it was a movement against huge government debt, government spending, higher taxes and the new health care law. Within a month or two, it was co-opted by the religious conservatives in the republican party like Michelle Bachman. What started as a movement from outside the system with narrow objectives with real grievances became just another far right republican movement.
The same thing is happening with #occupy, but much more quickly. It started as a grassroots movement, led by people who believed that the bailouts to wall street were unfair, that there is too much money in politics and that our economy needs to be reset in order for us to grow again. Within two weeks, its been co-opted by far left activists, labor unions and now many Democratic elected officials with a broad range of issues.
Just like the Tea Party, elected officials and those with power saw that they could benefit from latching onto the cause. They see another way to gain popularity and potentially stay elected. Both movements started with reasonable grievances, but are now being co-opted by the extremists in their parties. I believe #occupy has the chance to be as big and as influential as the Tea Party has been, but both movements have lost chances to be as important as they could have been because they have allowed themselves to be taken over by people on the extremes.
I believe that we need to incorporate grievances from both the tea party and the #occupy movement: Our government is too big, is fairly dysfunctional and costs way too much. We never should have fully bailed out Wall Street and done nothing to help main street. There is far too much money in politics, on both sides of the aisle. Pretty much all of congress is bought and paid for.
We also should be realistic: We are in the biggest period of change since the industrial revolution. We now have to compete with people around the world. The internet is replacing jobs with computers. Every industry is experiencing productivity increases at the expense of people. Recovery is not right around the corner. It will be hard and will require sacrifices and big changes (including lower standards of living) by pretty much everyone, the rich, the middle class, the poor.
I believe #occupy and the tea party have a ton in common. We need a 3rd centrist movement that incorporates the good from both #occupy and the tea party, without the extremists. What do you think?