Spending some time at Occupy Oakland yesterday with my kids, and having to answer their questions about what it means, made me think a bit about what it means. Of course, many in the media have criticized the Occupy Movement on various grounds. The consistently idiotic David Brooks recently used his space in the paper of record to babel about how it is just a bunch of spoiled liberal arts majors who are pissed off that the finance guys are getting all the money. (I'd say more but Charles Pierce has done it already.)
As I've said a number of times here, I think that Obama's biggest mistake was turning the conversation from jobs and the misdeeds of bankers to the budget deficit. While he does seem to be trying to pivot back to jobs and the economy and it is working, but it seems unlikely that his efforts alone would be effective right now. What is critical about the Occupy Movement is that it is clearly having an impact on the conversation. It is drawing in people who were not active before and it is changing the views of people across the nation and the more people hear about it the more they support it. A CNN poll released today found that the number of people who have heard about the protests is rising and support for them is rising along with it. Moreover, as E.J. Dionne recently wrote, the Republicans clearly fear the movement and that they are losing their control over the narrative. This despite the medias bafflement about how to cover the movement.
One huge danger to the movement is the very, very, small number of people who are engaging in violence and vandalism. Fortunately, the majority of the protesters are doing what they can to stop this (take a look at the five minute mark in this video to see protesters locking arms to stop a small group vandalizing a Whole Foods store in Oakland). I hope this will continue and that protesters will heed this call to support local businesses.
The what next question is a valid one. I don't think it is fair to compare the Occupy Movement with the Tea Party for many reasons. One of the most critical is that Occupy is a genuine grass-roots movement while the Tea Party was largely astroturf abetted by Fox News. But what the Tea Party did and Occupy needs to do if it is going to make real change, is put fear in the hearts of politicians and what politicians fear is losing their jobs. Changing the conversation is a great start and it matters a lot in our media driven political culture, but I would love to see Occupy create voter registration drives and even encourage their members to run in primaries. Stay tuned.