Occupy Wall Street shifts from protest to policy phase

Protesters face the difficult and interesting task of leveraging their influence to achieve concrete policy changes addressing their concerns.

Michael Hiltzik
Los Angeles Times

How do you know when a protest movement is starting to scare the pants off the establishment?

One clue is when the protesters are casually dismissed as hippies or rabble, or their principles redefined as class envy or as (that all-purpose insult) “un-American.”

Nothing shows that as powerfully as the reaction to the Occupy Wall Street protests that have spread from the financial district in lower Manhattan to cities nationwide, including Los Angeles. Conservative politicians have condemned the Occupy Wall Street protesters as “mobs” supporting the “pitting of Americans against Americans” (Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va.) and proponents of “class warfare” (GOP Presidential hopeful Herman Cain, who also hung on them the “anti-American” label).

On the other side of the aisle, Democrats are expressing support, if gingerly thus far, for the anger against the financial industry underlying the new protests: “People are frustrated, and the protesters are giving voice to a more broad-based frustration about how our financial system works” (President Obama) or “I support the message to the establishment…that change has to happen” (House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco).

Progressives plainly hope that Occupy Wall Street will help give concrete form to a political narrative that so far has remained abstract in the public mind: That the financial industry has so far gotten a pass on its responsibility for the 2008 crash and escaped sufficiently stringent regulation, while government assistance to banks and Wall Street firms has left consumers in the dust.

But moving from protest to policy is the hardest leap that grass-roots organizations face, akin to turning a promising patent into a billion-dollar business. Occupy Wall Street is just now entering that very difficult, and very interesting, phase.

The principal rap against the protests is that they’re inchoate — both in their ends (Are they articulating much more than an undifferentiated rage at banks and wealth?) and their organization (Are they more than idle hippies camping out in a downtown park?). Yet both points are erroneous…

…As for planning, Occupy Wall Street has reached a delicate stage at which what may have been born as a ragtag protest is being infused with professionals from groups with organizational skills such as Moveon.org and labor unions. Those groups helped plan the attention-grabbing march Thursday, but the change may produce internal dissension over the participants’ conflicting agendas…

The complete article is at the LA Times.

H/T TheBlackSphere on Blog Talk Radio, hosted by Kevin Jackson.

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