The voters of the United States will go to the polls one year from now to elect a president. It seems to have become a cliche every four years, but one cannot deny that the election will be a very important one for our country. One need not be a political scientist to see that there are forces arrayed on the right who are working full-time, using millions of corporate dollars to defeat President Obama and install an extremist in the White House. The question is how can progressives, working with those in the center, defeat this dangerous force?
The seeds of victory in 2012 are being planted now. When historians look back at 2011 they will be able to call this year a turning point in our political history. The massive union-led fightback against the anti-labor legislation drafted by Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin and copied by the governors of other states highlighted the first half of the year, reaching its high point with the successful recall of two Republican Wisconsin state senators who supported the Governor. In Ohio, on Election Day, the campaign to repeal a similar law, SB 5, won in a landslide.
As the summer waned, a number of activists started a protest against the power of financial capital by camping out in Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan. Thus was born the Occupy Wall Street movement, which has spread to over a thousand communities across the country (and beyond) and has galvanized the energies and re-invigorated the idealism of millions of people.
The Occupy movement is a diverse one that draws support from all sectors of society that are impacted by an increasingly dysfunctional capitalist system. It includes people from a vast array of ideological, cultural, social backgrounds. No one viewpoint predominates.
Some have said that this lack of focus, or the absence of a codified political manifesto hurts the movement. Others reply that this inclusiveness is at the core of the movement’s strength.
When compared to other great peoples’ struggles in the past, such as Abolitionism, the fight for women’s equality, or the labor movement, the Occupy movement is in its infancy. It is much like the early solar system, which formed from a cloud of gas and dust particles that, over time, coalesced into the Sun and planets we know today.
Given time, openness, and a democratic spirit, Occupy Wall Street will develop a clearly defined program and a way to bring its demands into reality.
It is very important, however, that the Occupy movement not let pass a major opportunity to influence the 2012 presidential election and to shape the future of our country. There are a number of ways in which this can be done.
The Occupy Wall Street movement and organized labor are natural allies and have been working together in many ways over the past two months. The AFL-CIO and its member unions have been deeply involved in electoral politics for many years. It has the organization and the people to influence races at all levels of government all over the United States. Even in a short time, one can see a coming together of the two groups.
On October 5 a number of unions, including autoworkers, the Teamsters, nurses, teachers, and government workers, led a march of tens of thousands to Zuccotti Park. Labor is redefining its demands in terms of “We are the 99 percent.” It is vital that unions and activists across the country work for common goals: jobs, financial reform, relief from foreclosures and student debt, and a reduction in the defense budget.
*Community activist groups are another key component of the movement. They have the know-how and organizational skills to work with the unions and Occupy movement to elect people who support its goals.
*There are politicians at all levels of government who endorse the aims of the Occupy movement. The Congressional Progressive Caucus, an organization of over seventy federal lawmakers, is working to implement changes expressed by Occupy Wall Street supporters across the United States.
*It is always a good time for activists to put themselves forward as candidates for political offices at all levels of government. If the incumbent politicians are in the pockets of the corporate elites, now is the time to challenge them.
*In some states, particularly those with fusion voting, there are progressive parties, such as the Working Families Party (WFP), that provide a political platform for the working people. They endorse candidates of other parties (in New York in 2008 they endorsed Barack Obama), but are always willing to run independent candidates. The WFP was a prime mover of the October 5 march in New York.
As one can see, there are a number of ways that those of us who have organized to fight the corporate power can make their voices heard in the next twelve months. At the end of 2011 we may be early in the days of a new protest movement, but we have an opportunity to change history next November. Let us seize the moment.