Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Occupy a Political Party

Last Wednesday, I shared my concerns for the sustainability of the Occupy movement as we see it now – without an agenda, a strategic plan, or a leadership structure. I suggested that an agenda be built around the demands suggested by Roger Ingalls.

This past weekend, I suggested to a friend of mine that the biggest challenge should possibly be bringing the Occupy moment, with its agenda and values, into the Democratic Party.

A Leadership Is Needed

He strongly protested. “Barack Obama has failed us,” he said. “The democratic leadership is part of the 1%,” he declared. “Once we join the system, we will be compromised and become a part of it.”

I tried to take him to task. I don’t believe Barack Obama failed us, I think we failed him. We created a mass grassroots movement to sweep him into office. We cried with pride at his inauguration, and then we went out for sushi and two years later, the Republicans were in a position to block everything the President had talked about during the heady campaign days.

Why did we let up? What on earth made us think that one man could change Washington? Where did we find the arrogance to think that the Republican machine would simply roll over and lick its wounds in silence?

As we celebrated the amazing Change We Can Believe In, and told ourselves that Yes We Did, the Republicans were plotting how to fight back. I don’t blame them; we would have done the same, no?

Whatever you might think of the Tea Party, they have galvanized the Republican Party. Whether this is good or bad, might be highlighted by who becomes the Republican presidential candidate. Actually it might be bad no matter who is voted in, depending on your political perspective. But for the Republican masses, they want the Tea Party behind the candidate, because these are engaged and empowered people.

So where do we take the Occupy movement? We take it into the Democratic Party and we decide not to hand over the keys. We become empowered partners who work not only for four more years of the most visionary and intelligent President that most of us can remember, but we fight on to give him a Congress that will work with him and not against him.

Occupy. Obama, Tea Party - somethings gotta happen!

There are those in the Occupy movement who will have trouble with this. They have worked hard to create a momentum based upon commitment and values, rather than power and ego. But their biggest test will be to continue to deny their own power aspirations and ego without getting disillusioned by entering mainstream politics.

This is a win: win for everyone who believes in a left or liberal agenda. For the Democratic Party to do this, they need an army of grassroots activists who are feeling empowered despite the blows rained down on us from Wall Street and big banks. They need the energy of the Occupy movement and the Occupy Movement needs a political party to let our President do what he set out to achieve.

Most of all, this is what America needs. It is what a sinking Europe and a poverty-stricken Africa needs. It is what those seeking to throw off the chains of autocracy and fanaticism need.

A strong, democratic, and moral democracy must emerge for the world. And it can begin with the next step that the Occupy movement takes. I hope they are willing to take that first step. And I hope the Democratic Party has a strategic understanding that they must welcome a new generation into their hallowed halls.


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

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5 thoughts on “Occupy a Political Party

  1. Alon-
    Without a viable 3rd party, Occupy throwing their support behind a liberal President is a reasonable tactic. However, the support should come with a warning to the DEM party, “STOP favoring the 1% and start helping the 99% NOW or come 2014 and 2016 we will rally against you”.

    I must admit, it’s my belief President Obama failed during his first two years. He had the House and the Senate but squandered the advantage. It’s like soccer; if you have an open net then kick the ball…don’t stand and negotiate with the goalie as he’s trying to reset!
    Just some thoughts-

  2. Neil Goldberg on said:

    Alon, this is as good a spot as any to continue the discussion. The Occupy movement is, well, a movement – not a political party. Obama would be well advised to pay careful attention to the way it has already changed the conversation – to economic justice and sustainability, and away from all the things Fox News (and NBC and CBS too) tries to confuse us with. So should the Green Party pay attention (they are), and even sane minded Republicans who want to stay relevant to the discussion as it shifts away from their issues. Obama already has acted on it, if you take his executive order on the Keystone pipeline as a response to Occupy sentiment (many in that movement claim that to be the case). BoA has acted on it in withdrawing their additional charges on credit cards.

    It’s quite amazing the degree to which people believe they KNOW what is meant by “economic justice” – and I suspect over the next few years there will be a deepening conversation where insight is gained and disagreement about means and ends is generated. In the meantime politicians and parties of all stripes will lay claim to speaking to the concerns of the 99% and much good policy will come out of it, and probably a reasonable amount of bad. As long as the movement remains vibrant there is great likelihood that whatever new legislative ideas, institutional plans, public and private initiatives emerge, will be filtered through the lens of Occupation consciousness.

    Anybody who asks “what does Occupy want?” should make a proposal and see where it lands in the swirl of conversation about what is good for the 99%. We should all figure out how we can translate those ideas into change generating action – by voting for a Dem, or starting an initiative in an organization we belong to, or supporting a union…..

    Let a million flowers bloom!

    • Thanks for the comments, Neil. I do not question whether Occupy has had an impact, and the examples that you give are solid. My worry is that this momentum could dissipate. In Israel, everyone went from the Tent City movement back to their own causes and organizations. I have no doubt that they all continue to do good work, but I don’t feel they are writing the agenda, as they are not perceived as a force in the political process.

      Unfortunately, that is the only venue in town for sustainable change. To move as a group into the democrats is to move with impact. I am very impressed with Green Party activists that I have met, but I think things are too dire to wait for a 3rd party to emerge, that doesn’t siphon from the left and so strengthen the Republicans.

      Your thoughts?


      • Neil Goldberg on said:

        The amazing thing about a “movement” rather than a moment, campaign, demonstration or election is that it is broad, directional and largely out of control. It sweeps everything in its path and one can influence its course but it is futile to resist. The 60’s movement was really many movements that flowed together and left this country changed in dramatic ways. I believe that movements emerge when there is a need for a shift in consciousness in order to reconcile our ways of being with new realities – and we are, in my view at the beginning of such a shift. The 60’s really started in the 50’s (and before if you consider the roots of the civil rights movement), and continued well into the 70’s. Like then, we are starting to see multiple streams beginning to flow together – anti-imperialism/anti-war, environmentalism/global warming consciousness, anti-corporatism and bringing them all together, in this moment, is the cornerstone of the Occupy movement – economic justice.

        One of the remarkable things about this movement so far, has been its immense creativity – in music, visual arts and most importantly models of social interaction. As much as the mainstream media might resist it, the sounds, imagery and language of this movement are already finding their way into the culture.

        So my last thought, appropo of writing in this blog, is that a most critical challenge is to “Occupy the Media” – the get the MSM (main stream media) to adopt the language and ultimately frame of reference of the Occupy movement – much as they have adopted the language and frame of reference of corporatism over the past 20 years.

        Next round is over a beer.

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