The protests of 2011—from Wisconsin to Wall Street—finally tore off the gag of silence about corruption and economic inequality in our country.
But the pundits at FOX “News” are not wrong when they say that our movement is nowhere near as powerful as the Tea Party movement—at least not yet. That is in part because the Tea Partiers used the momentum from their protests to seize a piece of institutional power through elections.
Today there are Tea Party caucuses in Congress. There are Tea Party-sponsored presidential debates. The actual “tea parties” are no longer well-attended. But the movement is still in a position to continue implementing its draconian agenda.
Candidate Barack Obama also successfully converted rising frustration and activist energy into an electoral triumph in 2008. But thus far, Occupy Wall Street has not tried to occupy the institutions of established, formal political power (e.g., elections and political parties).
This omission is not by accident. Rather than getting caught up in electioneering, Occupy is choosing to focus on the hard, risky, and often-thankless work of direct action protest. They are building their own community, presence, and power through participatory democracy. They fear that too much entanglement with the existing system would kill their independence, idealism, and chutzpah.
Theirs is a sensible stance, as far as it goes. Larger movements often need a bright spearhead, propelled by pure ideals that are untarnished by the exigencies of ordinary politics.
But the question remains: What about the rest of us? There are tens of millions of people who never slept outside in a tent—but