Ezra is featuring some thoughts by veteran organizer Rich Yeselson on his blog today that are well worth reading. I think his insight about face to face involvement is particularly interesting. I’m hearing from people who are involved in the protests that the energy is all coming from being there in person — that people are learning about the issues from one another. I confess I’m a little bit surprised by this because I had thought that social media and the internet would have filled much of that gap, but apparently not. (For instance, the Paul contingent are kids who like Ron Paul’s stance on the war but have also absorbed his lunatic economic message without understanding that it’s antithetical to their complaints, so there’s quite a bit of education to be done.)
As for goals, Yeselson has some very insightful advice I think:
The phrase, “we are the 99 percent” nicely encapsulates the potential of OWS to become a movement of democratic extension. But right now, the precise demands of the Wall Street demonstrators include grandiose ideas like abolishing consumerism. A bit vague, and can even Lloyd Blankfein get it done by the end of the next quarter? As Harold Meyerson [wrote Tuesday] in The Washington Post, other groups around the country with a different leadership structure are making more concrete demands, including the modification of student and household debts and the imposition of a financial transaction tax.
Reworking debt should be distinguished from either “demand the impossible” notions, like abolishing consumerism, or smart lefty wonkmanship, like a financial transaction tax. I won’t dispute that an FTT is good policy, but neither it nor posturing about stopping other people from buying stuff that you find tasteless changes the lives of ordinary people in a clear and measurable way. It won’t affect how much they are paid and how they deal with their boss, or how they use public accommodations, or whom they choose to live happily ever after with. But lowering the crushing debt burden on millions of people in the midst of a “balance sheet” recession can do just that—it hits people where and how they live. If, as in this example, the demonstrators make proposals which have an organic connection to the pressing concerns of millions of people, they will heighten the potential of developing a movement which can leverage political change.
This is interesting. Recall the speech that inspired the Tea Party, Santelli’s rant, delivered from the trading floor in Chicago:
RICK SANTELLI: The government is promoting bad behavior. Because we certainly don’t want to put stimulus forth and give people a whopping $8 or $10 in their check, and think that they ought to save it, and in terms of modifications… I’ll tell you what, I have an idea.
You know, the new administration’s big on computers and technology– How about this, President and new administration? Why don’t you put up a website to have people vote on the Internet as a referendum to see if we really want to subsidize the losers’ mortgages; or would we like to at least buy cars and buy houses in foreclosure and give them to people that might have a chance to actually prosper down the road, and reward people that could carry the water instead of drink the water?
TRADER ON FLOOR: That’s a novel idea.
JOE KERNEN: Hey, Rick… Oh, boy. They’re like putty in your hands. Did you hear…?
SANTELLI: No they’re not, Joe. They’re not like putty in our hands. This is America! How many of you people want to pay for your neighbor’s mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can’t pay their bills? Raise their hand.
President Obama, are you listening?
TRADER: How ’bout we all stop paying our mortgage? It’s a moral hazard.
KERNEN: It’s like mob rule here. I’m getting scared. I’m glad I’m…
CARL QUINTANILLA: Get some bricks and bats…
SANTELLI: Don’t get scared, Joe. They’re already scaring you. You know, Cuba used to have mansions and a relatively decent economy. They moved from the individual to the collective. Now, they’re driving ’54 Chevys, maybe the last great car to come out of Detroit.
KERNEN: They’re driving them on water, too, which is a little strange to watch.
SANTELLI: There you go.
KERNEN: Hey Rick, how about the notion that, Wilbur pointed out, you can go down to 2% on the mortgage…
SANTELLI: You could go down to -2%. They can’t afford the house.
KERNEN: …and still have 40%, and still have 40% not be able to do it. So why are they in the house? Why are we trying to keep them in the house?
SANTELLI: I know Mr. Summers is a great economist, but boy, I’d love the answer to that one.
REBECCA QUICK: Wow. Wilbur, you get people fired up.
SANTELLI: We’re thinking of having a Chicago Tea Party in July. All you capitalists that want to show up to Lake Michigan, I’m gonna start organizing.
That’s pretty much the opposite of debt relief, isn’t it? OWS then, is quite literally the anti-Tea Party. That’s worth contemplating a little bit, I think.
Update: Speaking of Chicago, here’s a current picture from the Board of Trade Building: