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Occupy Protests Work Outside Political Process

  • Jeff Swicord

The Occupy movement, which started in New York, has grown to more than 1,400 encampments around the country. Occupy has chosen to work outside the political process, shying away from appointing leaders and setting agendas. Some protesters, and political observers, argue they must become a more formal movement to bring change. But they are starting to shift the political tone in the country by unconventional means.

Two thousand nurses join with Occupy D.C. for a rally near the White House. They want a tax on stock trades to curb Wall Street speculation and raise revenue for infrastructure jobs and human needs. Since President Obama is opposed to the idea, the demonstrators mock his treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner.

"I am Timmy Geithner with the one percent," said one protester.

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader says so far, the movement has had little effect on political leaders. "Congress is going about its corporate business as if nothing is happening out there. But, pretty soon they are going to start surrounding each congressional office back home with the Occupy people. And then maybe they will start to get the message," he said.

The Occupy protesters vow to work outside the traditional political process, which they see as incapable of bringing real change. They prefer to take their message directly to the people. Karen Conner with the Economic Policy Institute says they are beginning to change the political tone in the country. "The fact that the major newspapers are picking up on the message, or the messages if you will, and writing about them in their editorial pages and on their front pages is very promising," she said.

Some political analysts believe the Occupy message is starting to replace the dominant Tea Party message of the past two years, that big government has bankrupted the country.

John Cavanagh, director of the Institute for Policy Studies, said "The bigger story is we have a country that is broken, that isn’t working for the majority of the people, that is grotesquely unequal. And when you change a story like that, it has all kinds of ripple effects through society."

Cavanagh points to a recent decision by a major bank to charge customers a monthly debit card fee. After a backlash from angry consumers, the bank dropped the plan. "The protests came up and the banks acted or reacted," he said. "I think in the banking world there is a lot of discussion right now of what do we need to get these people to go away?"

The protesters vow to stay put. Michael Berkson is from New York. "The vast majority of this country is hurting and that is who should be helped. Wall Street can afford it. A financial tax will not only help the vast majority, and pay for infrastructure spending, but it will curb their greed," he said.

Protestors say they plan to occupy the campaign offices of Republican presidential candidates. There are also big plans for the spring. Their goal is to force politicians to act by exerting pressure from outside the political system.