Letter to Occupy: Time to Get Your Hands Dirty
Where did you go? Is that it? Six months of camping out in parks, carrying signs, and beating drums didn’t change American democracy, so you've given up? That is not a "movement" - that's a protest, a sit-in, a demonstration. You had your moment, but it takes more to create a movement.
The Occupy Wall Street movement has made an important contribution to our political discourse, but it was only a first step. At the height of the protests, two-thirds of Americans agreed with your concerns about the inequitable distribution of wealth. But where are you now that America really needs you? You retreated during the winter and no one has heard from you throughout this hot political summer. We are headed into one of the most important elections in your lifetime; are you just going to stand by and do nothing?
You have the opportunity to become a significant force in the historic struggle against all forms of oppression, but not if you give up. The Abolitionist Movement, the Women’s Suffrage Movement and the Civil Rights Movement have all shaped the progression of our country in order to create a better democracy. You must realize, however, that these struggles were neither quick nor easy. They were only successful because they dealt with their setbacks and pressed on. America needs your movement to succeed.
During the height of the protests last fall, many of your signs and chants said, “What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like!” However, that is only part of the truth. Democracy is politics, like it or not.
It is clear that you have a great disdain for American politics, and who can blame you? The corporations have bought the entire Republican party and half of the Democrats. It is understandable that people don't want to become infected by politics, but our only hope is to give the other half of the Democrats a second chance. Opting out is what the other side wants you to do. For the future of our country, please do not play into their hands.
Right now, there is another movement in this country and the Tea Party plays the central role. This is a regressive force aimed at rolling back the democratic gains made in the Civil Rights Movement. There are people being purged from the voting rolls in Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio: all with Republican administrations aimed at keeping Democrats from getting to the polls in November. These are key battleground states, and they are trying to steal the election.
In the past, there were Freedom Riders from the Northern states who bussed themselves down to the south to help people get to the polls. Where are the "Freedom Riders" now that we need them again?
People died to bring about these voting rights. We need people who are willing to stand up and help defend them.
The reason the Tea Party is able to control the Republican politicians is because they have a focused agenda, they are well organized, and they vote in huge numbers. If you want to have any part in setting our political agenda, then you are going to have to do what they are doing, only better.
America is at a tipping point. Most Americans believe that our country is headed in the wrong direction, and we now realize that it is going to take more than one election to turn our country around. The youth turned out in the last election, and then quickly became disillusioned. Now we are realizing we cannot merely elect a president and then walk away – we must stay involved in politics.
Politics in America has become a dirty business. But like it or not, democracy is politics – it doesn’t have to be dirty, but you do have to get involved in order to change it. To not get involved is what turning your back on democracy looks like. If you want to change the world, you are going to have to get your hands dirty.
What does a genuine democracy look like? Everyone registers, everyone votes! If you want a better democracy, try occupying the voting booths. How history will judge your movement is still in your hands.
For more info visit Advocating Democracy.