By Brigitte L. Nacos
Just like Tea Partiers in the spring of 2009, when they staged their first anti taxation protests, Occupy Wall Street Protesters were initially interested in winning mass media attention. With that accomplished, Tea Partiers then and the Occupy Wall Street Activists now were able to enlisted support for their actions and causes. Occupy Wall Street has ignited protests against social injustice in other cities across the country—voices from the 99% versus the 1%. Some observers have already compared Occupy Wall Street with the beginning of a progressive Tea Party movement.
But whether die Occupy Wall Street Initiative grows into a movement at all or one that can rival the right-wing Tea Party in size, activism, and political effectiveness depends on several factors, most of all what kind of organizational structure emerges once the initial demonstration phase runs its course.
So far, the Occupy Wall Street initiative has achieved some fundamental requirements for a non-violent protest movement to emerge: (1) critical mass; the initially small protest in downtown New York City swelled to a large crowd here and led to similar actions in other cities, and (2) public attention via mass media organization and social networking.
Up to now, Occupy Wall Street activists have talked about a laundry list of grievances instead of agreeing on an easily understood common cause with an easy to understand slogan. Some young demonstrators have simply said, “We want social justice.” That is a cause with the potential to win more popular support than the Tea Party movement.
For that to happen, the Occupy Wall Street activists need to come up with something like the Tea Party’s organizational model that consists of networks with a multitude of local cells across the country. These cells are highly active, not only at the heights of political campaigns. Just like Tea Partiers are tireless in their efforts to defeat of elective officials that do not embrace their cause, a progressive protest movement needs to organize itself so that it can work relentlessly for the defeat of elective officials that are determined to dismantle effective government programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, undermine the public school system, and make wealthy individuals and corporations richer.
Peaceful protests are part of the political fabric of democracies. But when the demonstrations stop, a movement’s energies are best channeled into political participation--in the case of Occupy Wall Street into the 2012 election campaigns.