Thinking outside the tent: Where the 99% movement could “camp out” next

Now what? Now that the political establishment has succeeded in physically removing Occupiers from several cities, what direction should the movement take? Many have vowed to return to the camp-out mode, and that’s one route. But it may be time to think outside the tent and broaden the movement.

The protesters who have physically occupied Wall Street and other central city locations have succeeded in many ways: They’ve brought attention—in a way that can’t be ignored—to the economic inequality that has become entrenched through official policy and legislation written for and by the one percent. They’ve changed the conversation from the bogus debt-ceiling “debate” to a discussion of the death of the American dream, the plight of the middle class, and the recently invisible and taboo topic of poverty in America. They may have awakened a sleeping giant—the vast numbers of Americans who are sinking financially, but who have been fooled by the cynical, politico/corporate propaganda machine that has convinced them to vote against their own economic self-interest.

Those successes are worthy of celebration. They’ve captured the attention, imagination and support of a lot of people. But they’re just the beginning. The 99% movement is more than an occupation of city parks. It’s a concept that touches—well—99% of Americans. The movement has a compelling message and purpose that should not fold with the tents and encampments.

So, where should we go? How about if the 99% Movement fans out into legislatures, state commissions, local city councils and board meetings of civic groups—and perhaps even corporations? I’m aware that the un-leaders of the movement have resisted focusing on specific pieces of legislation, and there’s a good reason for that. They don’t want to be picked apart one bill, one amendment, one article, one-subhead, one sentence at a time.

Fine. There’s a much bigger message behind the 99% movement, anyway. It’s a policy message, rather than a legislative program. And that’s why I’m suggesting that 99 percenters start making their presence known in forums and hearings where policy is being discussed—to point out the ways that current and proposed policies promote economic injustice. They could stand up and ask, “Who really will benefit from this policy?”   And they could  push for alternatives that address the underlying inequalities.

I’m not proposing that 99 Percenters disrupt meetings, as the Tea Partiers did in 2010. Yes, action and confrontation get attention. But the movement has already been stereotyped and falsely portrayed as just another hippie rerun, populated by the great unwashed. And even though those images are wildly distorted, the 99 Percent movement might benefit from a style change.

Maybe the 99 Percent movement can gain attention and credibility by becoming a recognizable and unstoppable force that can’t be easily dismissed. What if the movement adopted some kind of an identity [even if it’s something as simple as T-shirts], became a reasoned, knowledgeable presence at policy meetings, and started exerting pressure from within? [There. I said it. “Within.” Do I hear groaning out there? I’m not surprised.]

The strategy I’m envisioning would require a level of conventional organization that many in the movement might find antithetical to the image they want to project of being outsiders. It might seem like a sell-out to the system.  It would demand long-term commitment and in-depth knowledge of issues that would not lend themselves to slogans. But it would not obviate marches and demonstrations or even bumper stickers, if it came to that. In fact, the two prongs of an inside-outside strategy might even feed and strengthen each other.

I’m not pretending to have the answers, here. Just an idea I’d like to toss out. I think the 99 Percent movement has touched a nerve in America, and I’d like to see it continue and grow. The question is how best to achieve that goal.