Editorial: OWS needs a sharper focus

The slogan, “we are the 99.9 percent,” is certainly catchy, but how does it help define the Occupy Wall Street movement? Or better yet, what does define the movement?
In Burlington last week, students and others protested the possibility that postal workers might be let off because that for-profit operation is losing money by the bucket load. But is protecting government or semi-government laborers at the core of this movement? Or, from a slightly larger perspective, is protecting any job that doesn’t make the worker a multi-millionaire what this protest is all about?
Or is there a more defined focus to the movement that some, including activist filmmaker Michael Moore and columnists such as Robert Reich, are calling “the real deal”… the moment activists have been waiting for? Just what is at the core of what some progressives are hoping is the long-awaited revolution to right the wrongs of the elite against the middle class?
Refining that definition may have started about 10 days ago. That’s when Moore writes that he participated in a half-day meeting in which fellow activists tried to define their mission and outline specific steps needed to accomplish their goals.
That meeting, he writes, yielded a grand “vision statement” that began: “We envision: 1) a truly free, democratic, and just society; 2) where we, the people, come together and solve our problems by consensus…” And it end ends with: “8) where we value human needs over monetary gain, to ensure decent standards of living without which effective democracy is impossible; 9) where we work together to protect the global environment to ensure that future generations will have safe and clean air, water and food supplies, and will be able to enjoy the beauty and bounty of nature that past generations have enjoyed.”
Not content to set the bar too high, Moore writes, “the next step will be to develop a specific list of goals and demands.” The object, he said, was to “wrestle the control of our country out of the hands of the 1 percent and place it squarely with the 99 percent majority.”
Moore goes on to suggest “ten things we want,” in which he cites things like eliminating the Bush tax cuts for the rich, and raising higher taxes on the wealthy, including a tax on all trading on Wall Street. He also advocates for penalties on any corporation that moves American jobs to another country, adopting a universal health care system, immediately reducing carbon emissions, stopping the funding all wars, as well as a recommendation on campaign finance reform.
Like the mission statement, it’s a list that demands fundamental change of the nation’s world order. And, as such, the center won’t hold, its tentacles will reach too far and wide, and it will become lost in its own ambiguity.
Perhaps we need to remind these well-intentioned activists that the Constitution is already on the side of the majority. The nation doesn’t need a fundamental restructuring of power, as much as a razor-sharp attack on those specific policies that are skewing majority rule, and stacking the financial deck, for example, in favor of big banks and the financial industry. And to win this war, the movement needs to focus on one battle at a time.
If too many lobbyists are being hired by the financial industry (and it’s at an all-time high), then start by putting rules in place that limit that influence. Next, reinstate the Glass-Seagall Act of the 1990s, with whatever moderations are needed to work in today’s environment. Don’t go further until those two goals are met.
With success comes enthusiasm, increased identity and a more defined mass movement.
But let’s keep it focused on the financial inequity for the moment and right the imbalances that have been created over the past 20 years. Let’s zero in on setting new tax rates that spread the concentration of wealth throughout the land. Let’s put a hold on anyone who has worked in government, particularly in the political theater, from joining lobbying firms for at least five years — so we don’t create a revolving door directly connecting politics to those whose very purpose it is to buy political favors.
But let’s put aside, for the moment, the temptation to try to save the global environment, strengthen public education, create a single payer health care system, overthrow the oligarchy, rewrite campaign reform laws, enrich the poor (and grant them better skills and higher education while we’re at it), and, in general, save the western world as we used to know it for time eternal. Others have claimed those fights as their own; let them wage those battles.
 If the Occupy Wall Street movement hopes to send a message that transcends general outrage and hopelessness, it needs to grow up. To do that, organizers need to become more disciplined in knowing what they want, articulate that clearly, and determine specific steps to make it happen.
The movement has the moral high ground and the 99 percent to make it happen. What it lacks are concrete goals to make the movement credible.
Angelo S. Lynn

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