Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Occupy Movement, 2 months in

There has been significant media attention given today to the various protests across the country that are connected to the two-month anniversary of the Occupy Movement. But the issue today should not be about the protests, but about where the movement stands.

The short answer, in my opinion, is that the Occupy Movement is rapidly becoming an afterthought. Allow me to use Pittsburgh as the example. Granted, the protesters in Pittsburgh have not been as large in number or as loud as some of their fellow groups around the country. Nevertheless, in Pittsburgh, the movement is largely stale.

A couple journalism classes at Point Park did some stories and interviews at the (for lack of a better term) headquarters of the Pittsburgh group, and as they did, I knew that they would have the terrain largely to themselves. The Pittsburgh media isn't going to be there on a regular basis.

The Occupy Movement has yet to coalesce into something beyond a series of generally young protesters who are part of the 99%. That's not going to get it done. Compounding the problem is that as the fall winds down, the national conversation is going to turn to the 2012 presidential election.

It seems unlikely that the Republicans are going to select their nominee quickly. While I don't think the battle will be as lengthy as was the one four years ago between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, there is every reason to think that it could take until at least March for one candidate to push far enough ahead to be considered the nominee.

By that point, the Occupy Movement likely will be completely forgotten.

Of course, it could be over before that. The recent moves by police and city leaders in New York and elsewhere signal that patience within multiple city halls is ending. And the cold weather indicative of winter also is working against the movement.

As I flew from Pittsburgh to Minneapolis today, I sat across a young woman who had recently returned from New York and some time with the Occupy Wall Street movement. As she spoke to the young woman next to her, I could hear in her voice the enthusiasm and commitment that brought together people just like her a couple months back.

But I also heard nothing that would indicate that she had an idea of what was next for the entire movement. The young woman was intelligent, articulate, enthusiastic and positive as she discussed what she saw in New York. And therein lies the problem -- those attributes can only take you so far.

The group needs what it might not like to hear -- maturity.

It needs to gather, for lack of a better term, a national convention and bring together those who have spent many a night in a tent and those who cannot (or would not) make such a symbolic stand but are committed to bringing about change.

It needs to construct a political platform and then begin challenging politicians, business leaders and others to endorse it.

It needs to find a leader, but that person at this point ought not be thought of as a candidate for any office. Rather, that person has to be the chair of the party, the person who speaks thoughtfully and powerfully to the media. (The young woman sitting on the plane across from me today might have been a worthy nominee.)

In short, the Occupy Movement has to get out of the tents and get something done.

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