2011 grassroots movement could Occupy new year
What a difference a year can make. In short order, we saw decline of the tea party Republicans as a political force and the emergence of a new, grassroots movement that challenges both parties to be more responsive to the will of the people.
This time last year, the loudest conversation in Washington was about reducing the national debt by cutting government programs while protecting the wealthiest American individuals and corporations from any tax increases by making the Bush tax cuts permanent.
The tea party movement began with grassroots anti-government protests, but it was quickly co-opted by right-wing groups like Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works, which organized the groups into a coherent political movement. Both organizations get their primary funding from the Koch brothers.
As tea party links to the big corporate money became more obvious, and the ideologues they elected to Congress turned out to be ineffective legislators, they lost the confidence of moderate Republicans and independents.
As tea party influence fades, the voice of the Occupy movement, claiming to speak for the 99 percent of Americans who are not rich, has turned the dialogue in Washington away from financial entrenchment and toward the problems of a middle class.
The national debt continues to be an important issue, but it has been overshadowed by the more immediate prospect of an economic collapse as middle-class purchasing power continues to shrink and wealth hoarded by the wealthiest Americans continues to grow.
Offering no program of its own to cure the ailing economy, the Occupy movement bears witness to the injustice of the current distribution of wealth in America. It encourages all citizens to consider the purpose of government.
The Declaration of Independence said men establish governments to secure the “unalienable rights” to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” If it fails in that fundamental responsibility, Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration, “It is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.”
Jefferson was not necessarily contemplating the kind of violent revolution that marked our fight for independence. He called his own election as our third president “the revolution of 1800,” because it ended rule by the conservative Federalist Party and established the more liberal (in those days) Republican Party.
Another great Republican, Abraham Lincoln, saw the national crisis over slavery as the “the eternal struggle between these two principles, right and wrong ... that have stood face to face from the beginning of time. The one is the common right of humanity, the other the divine right of kings. It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same spirit that says ‘you toil and work and earn bread and I’ll eat it.’ “
“That,” candidate Lincoln said in a debate with his opponent, Stephen Douglas, “is the real issue that will continue in this country when ... Douglas and myself shall be silent.”
Today, Lincoln seems prescient as “the eternal struggle” reduces Congress to ineffective bickering. But while Congress stalls, the protesters have shown remarkable persistence. Neither cold weather, police harassment, logistical problems or failure to sustain media attention has discouraged the protesters.
Though many occupations have been disrupted and camps forcibly removed, the movement continues to flourish. Firedoglake.com lists about 65 active occupation sites nationwide.
In addition, thousands of Americans partake in demonstrations, but are not registered as resident occupiers. Surveys show widespread support for the movement by sympathizers who do not actively participate in demonstrations.
With the coming of spring weather and the heating up of the 2012 campaigns, the Occupy movement is poised to emerge as the truly grassroots voice that the tea party never became.
It is too soon to anticipate the influence of the movement in 2012, but its potential is enormous. Not since the civil rights era has a movement had the momentum and numbers to fundamentally change the political landscape. We hope they use their power wisely to help usher in a more humane politics for a new American century.