OWS has accomplished one amazing thing. They've re-framed how Americans talk about wealth inequality in a way that gives most Americans an "us" (the 99%) to align with. But there's a lot more to do to turn that important but potentially short-lived shift in public perception into tangible reform. Getting to actual change takes more than vague ideas and slogans. It requires leadership, decision making, and long-term movement-building and mass organizing.
|Sign at OWS protest, via the International Business Times|
Your correspondent has never been a big "joiner" when it comes to political groups, and I'm not much of a "little d" democrat. I'm as suspicious of the mob as I am of law enforcement. In general, I do not consider public camping a viable nor sustainable political tactic. When I hear a protester chant into a bullhorn, "This is what democracy looks like," I must (usually successfully) resist the urge to physically attack them. When sitting through any meeting involving a "facilitator," I harbor dark fantasies of hitting them over the head, covering them with a sack, and transporting them to a dimly lit warehouse where I'd hold a gun to their head and force them to read aloud from Robert's Rules of Order.
So while I share many of the "Occupy Wall Street" critiques of society - particularly regarding the complicity of the financial sector in both a casino mentality and severing middle-class wage hikes from productivity gains - I think we're witnessing the limits of their tactics. Professional lobbyists and political campaigners are disdained as sell-outs by the drum-circle crowd, and Robert's Rules are considered antiquated and hierarchical compared to cool, supposedly more democratic "consensus" approach. But the OWS folks could learn a thing or sixty about the nuts and bolts of mass organizing from those who've organized successful mass movements in the past. For reasons presaged in my 2005 essay, reliance on a "consensus" decisionmaking structure doomed this effort before it ever got started. The OWS episode may have symbolic resonance going forward, but regrettably, in its current form, it's unlikely to have much structural impact on laws, regulations, or how Wall Street operates.