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Hullabaloo


Friday, September 30, 2011

 
Labor to join the protest fray
by David Atkins ("thereisnospoon")

Last Sunday I said that the only way the Occupy Wall Street protests would gain traction is if the organizational left in and around New York City decided to stiffen their spines and get involved.

Well buckle up, folks. We're going for a ride:

The “Occupy Wall Street” protests, now entering their third week, are poised to get a whole lot bigger than its core of 200 to 300 people, potentially even exceeding the protesters original goals of 20,000 demonstrators, thanks to recent pledges of support from some of New York City’s largest labor unions and community groups.

On Tuesday, over 700 uniformed pilots, members of the Air Line Pilots Association, took to the streets outside of Wall Street demanding better pay.

On Wednesday night, the executive board of the New York Transit Workers Union (TWU Local 100), which represents the city’s all-important train and bus workers, voted unanimously to support Occupy Wall Street. TWU Local 100 counts 38,000 active members and covers 26,000 retirees, according to its website.

The Union on Thursday used Twitter to urge members to take part in a massive march and rally on Wednesday, Oct. 5. That effort is being co-sponsored by another eight labor and community outreach organizations...

The other eight organizations expected to join in the October 5 rally, based on its Facebook page, are United NY, Strong Economy for All Coalition, Working Families Party, VOCAL-NY, Community Voices Heard, Alliance for Quality Education, New York Communities for Change, Coalition for the Homeless, which have a collective membership of over 1 million.

As Jon Kest, the executive director of New York Communities for Change, told Crain’s New York Business: “It’s a responsibility for the progressive organizations in town to show their support and connect Occupy Wall Street to some of the struggles that are real in the city today. They’re speaking about issues we’re trying to speak about.”

I don't know why it took so long, but better late than never. Still, it's going to take a lot more than one massive day of protest. The old "let's stage a big rally and then go home" right afterwards model of activism is pretty much dead. The new model is Wisconsin and Tahrir. There is nothing the champagne-sipping financiers would love better than to head home to the Hamptons on October 5th and come back on the 6th to find everything had returned to normal.

These organizations are going to have to be determined and help grow the occupation of Wall Street with a long-term presence. It's also going to be incumbent on them to plan out some sort of end game and clear goals, even if the original protesters themselves don't see a reason to do so. It will be tough to ask people to stay out in the New York City winter without some sort of strategy in mind, and some way of credibly declaring victory at some point.

As for the protesters currently on the ground?

Most of those in Zuccotti Park, though, don't see the need for a change in tactics. At least not yet.

"There isn't a consolidated message, and I don't think there needs to be," said Andrew Lynn, 34, who drove the three hours from his home in Troy, N.Y., to help the demonstrators' media team.

On Wednesday, he hunched over a laptop sheltered from the clammy air by an umbrella. A generator rumbled beside him, ensuring the group's activities continued to stream live to audiences.

Added Kobi Skolnick, a young Israeli American who by Wednesday was in his ninth day of participating in the protest: "I think the main thing we're doing is knocking on the walls of ignorance in this country so people wake up."

Funny thing is, though, the people are aware of how badly they're getting screwed by Wall St. I just conducted an array of pro bono focus groups with independent voters on behalf of a progressive organization; when the subject of Wall Street came up, there was near universal fury, with respondent answers ranging from aggrieved to downright violent.

The problem doesn't lie with the American people, ironically enough. The problem is that the American people don't know what to do about it, and neither the Democratic Party nor many left-aligned groups are offering a lot of answers. Merely increasingly the marginal tax rates on the wealthy, already treated as an apocalyptic battle in Washington, is only the beginning of the work that needs to be done to remove the economy from the clutches of the financial vampire squid.

Contra the spirit of the current protests, goals and strategy are necessary, even if it's as simple as a single unified demand. It doesn't have to be complicated, but there has to be something central for people to cling onto. In Wisconsin it was opposition to Governor Walker's legislation. In the Arab Spring, it's getting rid of the national dictator.

But even so, if it weren't for the brave ragtag folks in the park leading the way, we wouldn't even have the opportunity to talk about a long-term protest strategy. Now is the time for Democrats in New York and across the nation to prove that they're worth their salt and help these people come up with a coherent plan to truly defend the middle class, rather than simply pay it lip service.

In the meantime, if you're not in New York or can't make it there, you help out the protesters with food and donations here.


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