After being quiet throughout the winter, the Occupy Wall Street movement once again hit the streets Tuesday in their own version of “May Day” in many cities around the world—New York, Chicago, San Francisco, London—to name a few. Many commentators are questioning whether the event saved the movement, and whether it has longevity this time around.
In December, financial advisors Eric Zoldan of JHS Capital and Tom Dowling of Aegis Capital went down to Wall Street to observe the protests firsthand and try to find out more about what the protesters wanted. At the time, they found that the protesters’ primary gripe was with Washington policymakers, not Wall Street, and these FAs’ believed the movement could move to Washington, D.C.
Given that, I decided to ask my cousin Jason McDaniel, who happens to be a professor of political science at San Francisco State University, for a political perspective on the movement. He’s highly quoted in the mainstream media, and he makes some very good points. Just to note, he’s not anti-Occupy Wall Street, but he is disappointed by the lack of political engagement from the movement. He hopes that will change this time around. Here’s his take:
My concern at the beginning of the OWS movement was that it was not interested in doing the slow “boring” work of engaging in actual politics. The energy of the movement seemed to be directed towards articulating the viability of various “alternative” lifestyles, with the added energy provided by a critique of the failure of the democratic/ capitalist system in the U.S., which seemed to be blatantly tilted towards various elites, especially the financial system. In my mind they could have been a counterweight to the GOP messaging on economic issues, taxes, etc.
They could have pulled the Democrats towards their preferred solutions on banks, mortgages, taxes, education, etc., which I assume would generally have been more progressive/liberal. Instead Democrats feel that the populist energy on those issues is mostly from the libertarian / conservative right…
Politicians in this country are very afraid of populist energy, and can be very responsive to that kind of pressure. But, movements have to demonstrate an ability to deliver voters that are focused on specific issues. For instance, in recent Democratic primaries, two Democratic members of Congress who had voted against the Obama ACA health care reforms were defeated. Other Democratic politicians pay attention to that, they receive the message: health care moves democratic voters. They have not received a similar message from OWS that mortgage, financial reforms, inequality issues, etc. move democratic /progressive voters.
So, I would have to guess at this point that unless the OWS movement figures out how to engage with actual politics and elections in this country, they will not have a long lasting impact, and, unfortunately, may lose credibility by being forced to juice public attention with increasingly intense protests/demonstrations.
Perhaps this necessary shift is already occurring. According to the Huffington Post, during the winter and spring “activists in the movement kept busy meeting with members of community groups and other pillars of the traditional left. The ties that have been forged between these two distinct outgrowths of the left signal what many describe as a broad change in the Occupy movement.”
Either way, if the movement shifts its focus towards politics, I believe the attention would also be deflected away from Wall Street towards Washington, a good thing for those who work for these firms.