A week into the Occupy Wall Street actions in New York, I wrote a short article with perhaps an overly harsh title, Occupy Wall Street: Convergence of a Radical Fringe. I have to admit that I was not very hopeful about the prospects of this mobilization. The rhetoric of the initial call to action seemed out of touch (except for reaching radicals). As inspired by the Arab Spring as I have been this year, I didn’t think—and still don’t think—you can neatly transplant a tactic from one context to a radically different context. Indeed, history is littered with tragically failed attempts to do so. More to the point though, it looked to me like the brave radicals who kicked this thing off were doing the usual thing of putting their counter-cultural foot forward first, and dooming the action to be locked onto that lonely path, where so many Americans who agree with our populist sentiments are inoculated against us as the messengers.
But grassroots movements for change are more often than not rife with all kinds of clumsy missteps. And thankfully the factors that I pointed to have not been enough to stop the growth of this audacious and persistent movement.
This weekend House Majority Leader Eric Cantor decried the “growing mob” of Wall Street protesters, while House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi expressed her support, and the New York Times also endorsed the protest. Overnight, a political force is being born; one that has the potential to frame the national debate and finally create real populist pressure, a counter force to the formidable power of conservatives and big money.
This thing has, no doubt, gone big. It needs to go bigger. And it needs all of us who are sympathetic to help it to go bigger. If you’re waiting to join the perfect action, where you have no critique of any of the visible actors, you will wait forever. History will pass you by. Social change is a messy enterprise. Now is the time to dive into the wonderful mess. Bring your skills, your time, your money — even your critiques.
Most importantly, bring the people you know — not just the “activists” you know. These issues resonate with most Americans. So let’s challenge ourselves to have uncomfortable, unpredictable conversations with the people we know, from our workplaces, our families, our places of worship, our neighborhoods — not just the self-selectors who we meet in explicitly “activist” spaces.
It’s up to us to make sure Occupy Wall Street’s growth trajectory continues. See you in the streets.