This was published in the Durham Herald Sun, Contra Costa Times and San Jose Mercury News.
In Spain, Greece and other eurozone nations with high unemployment rates, we see the youth taking to the streets in an attempt to affect political change, change that will stop austerity measures and restore economic growth.
We had that kind of movement once in the U.S. With the country struggling with the same problems in the fall of 2011 — high unemployment rates, huge wealth disparity, slow economic recovery — people across the nation also took to the street to voice their displeasure.
It may seem strange that the Occupy movement has all but vanished, because the issues still remain. But for any movement to successfully affect political change, it must work for change within the existing system, have a clear agenda and course of action, and strong leadership. The Occupy movement had none of these.
First, it did not work to put its people into positions of power. Any astute political observer knew the Democratic establishment would not work to achieve the goals of the Occupy movement, particularly at the national level. Hillary Rodham Clinton raised nearly $20 million from Wall Street when she was a senator. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has received more than $5 million from the same sources since 2007, and Barack Obama received more than $15 million from the investment industry during the 2008 election cycle.
This year, the Democratic National Committee has raised more than $10 million from the securities and investment
With its dependence on campaign contributions from the very sources the Occupy movement opposed, along with its support of bailouts for the financial sector, the elites of the Democratic Party were never going to give their full backing to the Occupy movement unless the movement became a viable force politically.
To be viable, the Occupy movement needed to put forth its own slate of candidates in primaries and local races — as the tea party began doing in 2008 when it became disillusioned with Republicans — to either replace the Democrats who wouldn’t support their positions or to force incumbent Democrats to adopt the views of the movement.
Of course, the Occupy movement could not offer its own candidates or alternatives because it never offered a clear, coherent vision or plan of action. At some point, abstract ideas and clever slogans have to give way to concrete proposals.
The Occupy movement was too slow to develop a clear vision and plan of action.
This is a common mistake. Simply look at Egypt. The uprising in Egypt successfully ended the reign of President Hosni Mubarak after 30 years of rule, but now cannot figure out how to democratize the country.
After the ouster of Mubarak, Egypt has seen military rule instituted and its highest court try to manipulate elections in favor of the military and Mubarak sympathizers.
The people at the heart of the Egyptian revolution and the Occupy movement were the youth, the intellectuals and academics, people with lofty ideals but very little practical experience in governing.
If the hope is to bring about substantive change, and not just make a lot of noise, then systems need to be put into place that allow pragmatists and idealists to come together in a rare and unique way to turn those ideals into policy.
If it was 1787 instead of 2012, a group of revolutionaries would be in their second month of occupying the Pennsylvania Statehouse to draft a new Constitution. The men at the convention were those with practical political experience and high-minded ideals. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin and many others had leadership experience and were informed by philosophers such as Montesquieu, Plato, Blackstone, John Locke and Cicero.
And this is perhaps the most important component of any successful movement: leadership. Strong leadership can work within the existing system, help create a new system and turn abstract ideas into concrete plans.
Had all the Founding Fathers been like Thomas Paine, quick-witted pamphleteers with big ideas but no way to transform them into action, Americans would still be having afternoon tea.
The Occupy movement might not be dead completely, but unless it can figure out a way to work within the existing system, turn its ideas into action and find strong leadership, it will be only a memory after the November elections.