Kevin Drum has a good post up about Occupy Wall Street and its potential impact. I take his point about how the expression in and of itself is valuable, but the end of his piece drives at something that I think is really important and that I tried to articulate in an earlier post. Drum finishes in this way:
And just like the tea party, mainstream logistical support will be key. The tea party movement thrived partly because of genuine grass roots anger, but also because it got lots of publicity from Fox News and plenty of money and organizational support from national conservative groups. Likewise, on our side, union support is key because, even in their current emaciated state, unions are still the only big, institutional pressure groups in America focused almost entirely on economic issues. Jon Cohn puts it pretty well:
“During my lifetime, the activist left has gone through several incarnations, focusing on a series of different causes. For much of the 80s and 90s, very generally speaking, the focus was largely on identity politics. Then attention moved to globalization and then, during the Bush presidency, to wars abroad.
As far as I can tell, this is the first time the activist left has focused seriously on issues of economic opportunity at home. In fact, I think it’s the first time such issues have been front and center since the 1930s, although I’ll defer to the historians on that one. Either way, this movement has a chance to help shape the debate over economic policy in this country — not merely about the financial industry, which is the object of protests right now, but also about inequality generally.”
This is a point I was trying to get across in my article earlier this year about unions and plutocracy. My main takeaway was: with unions in a state of decline, what will take their place as a big, organized, persistent source of left-wing pressure on economic issues? I didn’t know the answer then, and I still don’t. But Occupy Wall Street has a chance — a fighting chance, anyway — of becoming that.
I think the point about organization can’t be hit on enough. Over the summer, I read an excellent book by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson titled Winner-Take-All Politics. The Hacker and Pierson book builds off a previous one, which I also enjoyed. Winner-Take-All is essentially a “how we got here” for the past thirty years, describing how America went from the Great Compression to income inequality that hasn’t been seen since the Great Depression. One of the key points in Hacker and Pierson’s analysis is the phenomenal way in which business has organized. Lobbying has exploded as an industry in the past fifteen years, but that’s just one aspect of business’ campaign. Trade groups have flourished. Conservative think-tanks, like Cato, Heritage and the American Enterprise Institute, now have an enormous impact on public policy debates and implementation. If Occupy Wall Street can form any kind organizational apparatus that curtails corporate interests, or even forces the media to focus on corporate influence more often (I know, I know, but I can dream), the movement will be invaluable.