I want to preface this post with a clarification. I tend to write about Occupy Wall Street (OWS) in the third person. I do that, not to separate myself from them but out of a sense that I have not done what I believe it takes to call myself one of them. I haven’t camped out in cold parks. I haven’t even donated anything. I haven’t marched. I haven’t faced down riot police. I haven’t been beaten. Or pepper sprayed. Or tear gassed. Or maced. I haven’t taken a rubber bullet or a bean bag canister for the crime of peaceably assembling to demand redress. In other words, in my opinion I have not earned the privilege of calling myself an occupier. But please make no mistake that I do align myself with them. I am definitely one of the 99%.
Occupy Wall Street was two months old yesterday, and it has clearly had an impact thus far. Still, the movement lacks definition and it faces serious questions about where to go from here.
Let’s start with some physical realities. It’s November, and that means that winter is on its way. We may even have lowland snow in Western Washington tomorrow. Now, I know I’m a namby pamby Southern Californian for whom temperatures in the 40’s made for a nasty winter growing up, but I’m pretty sure that hearty northerners will tell you that a big part of being able to function in cold climates is knowing when to come in from the cold.
Occupy Wall Street has a choice. They can spend the winter resisting eviction from snowy squares by increasingly aggressive authorities, essentially putting all their resources into survival, or they can come in from the cold.
I’m going to pause here to note that there are significant numbers of people in the camps who are homeless. They cannot be abandoned and forced out of their new-found communities. Whatever plan is made for moving OWS off the streets for the winter needs to include the homeless. Squatting in abandoned houses is one possibility, but it invites confrontation and lacks the numbers at a given location to deter law enforcement. But what about networking? What about building the relationships that have been forged in the camps to try to match individuals in need with those who can meet that need.
Ironically, it’s something of a conservative idea, but that doesn’t make it inherently bad. It might be a little idealistic, but not so much so that it can’t be tried.
Now, this does not mean that the movement has to stop. Marches, mic checks, direct action, coalition building can still go on. In fact, without the visibility of the camps, such activities need to happen. More importantly, however, OWS needs to look ahead and develop a strategy for 2012.
That’s the other reality that must be addressed. 2012 is a big election year. Whatever talk there may be of “revolution” it won’t happen so quickly as to pre-empt a good old-fashioned two party election.
Well, let’s look at some realities within that framework. The only Republican who even remotely cares about what OWS is talking about is Ron Paul, and for some reason, or perhaps for that very reason, he’s being frozen out by the Repbulican establishment. Of course, with each flavor of the week in the field self-destructing, Paul could be last anti-Romney left standing.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a Paul supporter. His libertarianism is too extreme for me, but when he talks about American imperialism and money in politics, he’s dead on. That’s why he has the following that he does. But I don’t see that following being sufficient to get him the nomination. With Perry making W look like a genius and Cain’s inability to keep his hands to himself, Mitt Romney is going to get the nomination.
That leaves Obama. There is not time to organize a primary challenge, and that would be stupid and self-destructive anyway. In other words, there’s a page for it in the Democratic playbook. He has a pretty decent chance of reelection, but a lot more needs to happen to make OWS a political powerhouse in Washington.
1) Obama needs to win reelection. This is likely.
2) The Democrats need to retake the House. Also likely.
3) The Democrats need to hold the Senate.
The Senate is problematic. The Democratic caucus has a three seat majority. This includes Lieberman and blue dogs like Ben Nelson. Moreover, the Dems must defend 23 out of 33 seats, so that hold is a tall order.
So let’s say we get the trifecta. The odds against the Democrats having a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, that is of the Democrats picking up 8 or more seats are astronomical. So we’d be left with the scenario we had in between Obama’s inauguration and the start of the current Congress. With a 6o-member caucus in the Senate, a 60% majority in the House and a President elected in a landslide, the Dems were hard pressed to push any legislation past the Republican filibuster. The filibuster has got to go. Once that happens, the door to real substantive change will be open. If OWS can be a partner in achieving that goal, they will have a seat at table.
Now, I’m not advocating that OWS endorse the Democrats, nor am I saying that the Democrats should make a big show of courting OWS. OWS needs to be present in the process, maybe even taking over some Democratic organizations. But ultimately, each organization needs to be itself and make decisions about support and endorsements on its own.
What OWS needs to avoid is overtly attacking Obama and making things so chaotic that the public turns away from him. To a degree, that happened in 1968 and we got Nixon. The left can’t go so far as to put Romney in the White House by beating up on Obama.
I don’t know exactly what that strategy looks like, but its development could be a good use of a winter indoors.