The Occupy protests that have sprouted up in over a thousand cities nationwide have had a profound effect on the political landscape. Barely four months ago, the dominant narrative was that the country is broke and we have to tighten our belts through “fiscal austerity,” with nary a mention of income inequality and who pays the price of “austerity” policies (hint: not the 1 percent). Today, even Republican presidential nominees are sniping back and forth about who is the wealthiest, and the framing of the 99 percent movement is widely used by politicians and in the media.
Shifting the national dialogue is an important step in re-prioritizing policies that will help everyone in our communities. As long as the political narrative and policy choices are driven by the wealthiest and most powerful interests in the country, we’ll continue to see outcomes that benefit a narrow section of society – the 1 percent. The Occupy movement nationally has been effective in raising up a populist alternative to the status quo of the political class.
The protests have also highlighted the conflict of interest that elected officials have between governing and raising the huge treasure chests needed to win an election in today’s “money is speech” system of campaign funding. This contradiction has only gotten worse in the past two years since the controversial Citizens United Supreme Court ruling that overturned a century’s precedent of campaign finance rules.
A big question now for the country is how the Occupy movement will interact with and impact the 2012 elections, and openings to push solutions to the income and wealth gap in the coming years. Johnson’s Great Society and Roosevelt’s New Deal transformed the country and our understanding of American values; they also ushered in a progressive era with political leaders who were committed to a vision of shared prosperity. Will this newborn movement be able to do the same?
Indeed, political ads have begun airing in swing states indicating the beginning of another long presidential campaign. It seems evident at this point that Occupy will not become an arm of the Democratic Party the way the Tea Party has for the Republican Party. Will the occupy movement be able to continue to shine a light on the gross amounts of money flowing from corporate coffers to candidates through the election? Will people who strongly identify with the 99 percent protests run for office and advance policies through the legislature? The answers to these questions will begin to shape our understanding of the staying power of these ideals and aims.