The Occupy Wall Street movement should not exclude activism in electoral politics.
In the midst of the excitement around these massive and ever-growing protests against economic injustice, some individuals and groups have suggested that the activism represented by the movement is the only worthwhile kind.
The substance of the argument is that electoral activism is pointless. Such an argument, however, sends good progressives down a one-way street.
The Occupy Wall Street movement is a fabulous display of antipathy to economic injustice and the elites who feel that they can ignore the growing misery suffered by the U.S. public. It is an audacious stand against a class that has acted in vampire-like fashion to drain the blood from the rest of the country.
Yet it is a movement that must at some point confront the question: “Where to from here?’
It would be a mistake to dismiss, out of hand, any participation in electoral policy. The Occupy Wall Street movement can serve as a mass base for multilevel social activism.
On the electoral front, it can energize a whole wave of left-of-center politicians who can capture the critical argument of these demonstrations and turn them into a platform. Much as the tea party movement did on the right, the Occupy Wall Street movement can bring forward good grassroots leaders as well as experienced politicians to challenge the retrograde politics and economics that has the United States stuck in an economic and moral quagmire.
In this sense, there is no contradiction between the activism in the streets, represented by the Occupy Wall Street movement, and the sort of electoral activism that is represented by groups like the Progressive Democrats of America, Virginia New Majority, Florida New Majority or the practice of elected leaders such as Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., or Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif.
Our political leaders must operate not as individuals aspiring to enter the political elite, but instead as champions of social and economic justice, or as a good friend recently said to me, as those who are prepared to challenge unjust authority.
When we counterpose street-based activism to electoral activism we ultimately stall. Protest alone is not enough. It simply says what we do not like. Today, we have to fight to put people power in the hands of those who are being crushed by the economic juggernaut. The 99 percent should be in the streets and in Congress.
Bill Fletcher Jr. is a longtime racial justice, labor and international activist and writer. He is a senior scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, editorial board member of BlackCommentator.com and immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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