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The Occupy Movement – America, Change it or Lose it

Lorre Wijelath

Lorre Wijelath received her undergraduate degree from the University of Washington and is currently a student at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota. She is passionate about the areas of race, gender and identity in the field of law.

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Image Copyright _PaulS_ (Flickr), 2011

I was asked to write a response to Mitch Billings’ recent article “The Occupy Movement“, which critiqued the Occupy Wall Street Movement (“OWS”) as a disorganized “Blanket Liberal Protest.” The article advanced a concern over the lack of direction and clear message by OWS. In response to the article, I find OWS to be neither a “Blanket Liberal Protest,” nor a disorganized movement lacking message or direction. In fact, I credit OWS with a meta-awareness of their movement as well as prior political movements resulting in OWS’ informed decision to reject the extant traditional political model.

The strategic point of OWS is that it is leaderless. As much as OWS tries to purposefully evade categorical definition, its website OccupyWallStreet.Org captures the movement, describing “aleaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions.” OWS further declares, “the one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to achieve our ends and encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize the safety of all participants.” Unlike the Tea Party, OWS strategically chooses to not wrap its message and meaning in a leader such as Palin, Bachman or Beck.

By definition OWS is not a “Blanket Liberal Protest.” OWS aims to attract all political persuasions, and refuses to restrict the movement by denominating a political party. The inclusive apolitical message is working.  In a recent survey conducted by the Quinnipiac University Poll, two-thirds of New York City voters said they support the protests. The backers included 81 percent of Democrats and 35 percent of Republicans. This is an example of how the OWS model is able to successfully integrate different political parties unlike the traditional system which operates on and perpetuates polarization.

By not submitting to a traditional political model, OWS removes two main road-blocks: lack of political integration and public back-lash. First, OWS political mechanism works without party lines and on an inclusive model; therefore, instead of a system functioning on mere exclusion the OWS model operates on a system of inclusion thereby affirming its desired shared public belief.  OWS frees the protestor to protest the issue not the party. Second, because OWS does not declare itself to be liberal or conservative, it is hard to use inflammatory rhetoric or blame to garner public contempt as reflected in the poll’s overwhelming public approval: “87 percent of New Yorkers, said it’s ‘okay that they are protesting.’” The broad message is getting through without a political party or political leader and to a broad constituency as is the OWS goal.

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