In New York City, the protesters who started the Occupy Wall Street movement remain camped out in Zuccotti Park. In Washington, DC, President Obama said at an Oct. 6 press conference that he understands the sentiment driving the activists. Yet in San Francisco, Mayor Ed Lee has approved a police crackdown and the confiscation of camping supplies in an effort to debilitate the occupation in front of the Federal Reserve Bank.
The move comes at a time when Lee is doing nothing to crack down on foreclosures that cost the city money, nothing to force the big banks that have the city's deposits to lend more in the community, and nothing to promote local taxes on the wealthy.
While Lee says he supports the First Amendment rights of the protesters, he sent the cops in at 10:30 at night to confiscate their belongings -- using, in part, the sit-lie law (which is only in effect until 11 p.m.)
His approach is just wrong. This city ought to be embracing and supporting the demonstrations. San Francisco makes room for all kinds of public events; this one should be no different. The people at City Hall should be working with the people in the streets to make San Francisco a central part of this growing national movement.
Make no mistake about it: What started as a small-scale, leaderless, somewhat ragtag group in lower Manhattan now has the potential to become a potent political force in this country. Occupy Wall Street has tapped into a deep feeling of frustration that's shared by people in blue states and red states, in cities and towns and rural communities. The feeble economy impacts almost everyone — and this movement has managed to point the finger at the people who caused the problem, who are preventing solutions and who are making big money off the suffering of others.
We realize that at this point, there's no specific focus for Occupy Wall Street. The civil rights movement and the anti-war movements of the 1960s and the antinuclear movement of the 1970s, the demonstrations against free trade agreements in the 1990s and the marches against the Iraq War in the past decade included people with hundreds of ideological agendas, but they had a pretty clear message — and, generally speaking, specific actions that government officials could take to address the issues.
Occupy Wall Street hasn't called for any bills, regulations or policies. It's still a group that is simply calling attention to a basic truth — the very wealthy in general, and the financial sector in particular, are enjoying economic gains at the expense of the rest of us. But that alone is a profound and potent message — if the demonstrators don't have all the solutions, at least they've identified the problem. And that's more than Obama, Congress, or the mainstream news media have done.
There's been plenty of talk of a formal platform — one Occupy Wall Street activist posted a proposed list of 13 demands on the group's website. It's not a bad list (a guaranteed living wage, single-payer health care, free college education, debt forgiveness, a racial and gender equal rights amendment) with a few somewhat random elements (outlaw all credit agencies). Fox news has picked up the list, although the organization, such as it is, has made it clear that there is no consensus on any platform and agenda. And the labor unions that are joining the protests — with the proper respect for the folks who started things — have legislation in mind (a financial transaction tax, for example).
There's a danger that the message becomes so diffuse, and imbued with every possible issue that anyone on the left cares about, that it loses the potential to have an impact on the 2012 elections. Occupy Wall Street could go a long way to providing a populist progressive message to counter the Tea Party (which is funded by and largely organized by billionaires but tries to claim grassroots legitimacy).
And there's no need for a laundry list of agenda items. The focus is right where it ought to be: The richest Americans — and the big financial institutions — have been sucking all the money and energy out of the economy. The remaining 99 percent are suffering. Tax the top 1 percent and create a robust jobs program to put the rest of the country back to work; that's a winning platform for 2012.