Since September 17th, an enormous amount of public momentum and critique has been generated by the emergence of Occupy Wall Street and its replication in hundreds of cities across the country. Since so much already exists regarding anti-oppression and the Occupy Wall Street assemblies, I rather share three reasons why I think Occupy Wall Street is critically important and significant.
1. Breaking the Story Told by the Powers that Be.
Occupy Wall Street is a game changer in public dialogue in the US. While community groups have been working tirelessly in the trenches for years (decades, centuries) to expose, confront, and transform unequal distributions of wealth and power, our words and actions have largely been relegated to the margins of public discourse. Further, for a variety of reasons, the analysis and messaging that groups do put out have been either shy to or unable to launch systemic critiques from within reform campaigns, let alone question capitalism.
With the emergence of Occupy Wall Street, a main story line has also broken through to the center that society is organized for the benefit of 1% at the expense of 99% of us. The story places Wall Street, as a symbol of capitalism, as the villain in the story and “the rest of us” as the victims and potential heroes.
The group, smartMeme, talks about moments of “psychic breaks” where current events cause the foundation that our world views are built upon to shake. During those moments, we are more open to new ideas, rewriting the story, and questioning the master narrative told by those in control.
Whereas, if a month ago a migrant rights organization put out a statement saying that if ICE were serious about its supposed policy focusing on ‘criminals’ than it should raid wall street, they would likely have been red-baited or dismissed as irrelevantly left. Now such a dialogue is seen as normal and within the parameters of political discourse.
Occupy Wall Street has moved the needle to the left and opened a space for us to talk about economic injustice in deep and root-addressing ways. A whole field of discussion which was psychologically off-limits for many people is now fair game.
2. Exposure for a New Generation of Changemakers
There is a difference between people who “don’t get it” and people who “haven’t gotten it yet” when it comes to how power, privilege, and oppression work in the real world. Recognizing that, can we have both the bravery to confront injustice as well as the humility to see ourselves in the people we meet each day and meet participants as new recruits in the long legacy of struggle as we walk through this?
Like the global justice protests that occurred a decade ago, Occupy Wall Street has become an entry point into social justice for hundreds if not thousands of young people. It’s a teachable moment. Taking place in parks across the country are exchanges with community groups who arrive to share their work. In New York, Domestic Workers United and Movimiento Por Justicia en el Barrio are just two who have held presentations with participants to share with them the on-going change-work that occurs in working class and communities of color; the work that will book end this particular flashpoint.
The political exposure participants will gain through experienced organizers deliberately engaging them, through experiencing or witnessing police brutality, and through the process of tasting that rare feeling of momentum, will develop a new generation of lifelong changemakers.
3. Opportunity to Sieze the Moment, Make a Leap.
Regardless of if one chooses to engage in a general assembly, gather in an “Occupied” park or not, Occupy Wall Street has opened a movement moment for us all to advance through. If history is made by a series of opening and closing windows of opportunity, an organizer’s role is to be prepared and to have people prepared to make a leap through the window when it opens. The raised profile of Right to the City’s actions against Bank of America in Boston, the Take Back Chicago March, and the San Francisco action that shut down a Wells Fargo in protest of foreclosures are all examples of community organizing groups seeing this moment as “a national platform to shine the light on work we’ve been doing for years,” as Amisha Patel from Grassroots Collaborative in Chicago explained in an interview during a week of actions that mobilized thousands and were featured in the Business section of the Chicago Tribune.
Many of us have been itching for the chance when our hard work could be center stage and we could spark a public debate about the roles of banks and corporations in our politics and our economy. It’s happening. One organizer from the San Francisco action observed, “I’ve never been part of something that’s gotten such widespread positive press.” It’s not necessarily because the actions have changed. It’s because the moment has. It’s up to us to sieze it.