Bill Clinton’s right when he says Occupy Wall Street needs to reach out to those in power, but he fails to see that those in power have no interest in the movement’s success.
One of the most common criticisms of the global Occupy Wall Street movement has been that the activists lack a clear, coherent direction. They are naive youngsters who have yet to outline their road map to economic equality, insist naysayers. But that alleged flaw may be their greatest strength: the movement need not become homogenous; one person’s grievances will not necessarily match those of his peers.
As microfinance leader Gina Harman told me in a recent interview, “A lot of the writing about the Wall Street stuff has suggested there’s no clear message, and the fact is, why should there be one message? There can be hundreds of expressions of why people feel like they’re in the one percent.”
The real challenge for the movement, as former President Bill Clinton explains, is that organizers have thus far failed to collaborate with those in power.
In an interview with ‘USA Today,’ Clinton said that he “sympathizes” with the movement’s “amorphous set of resentments,” because “I don’t think Americans can continue this level of income inequality.” At the same time, however, Clinton believes the protesters need to outline their ultimate goals — rather than how to get there — and then work with the men and women in a position to make those dreams a reality.
“They need to have some idea of what they want the country to do,” said the president. “If I were in their position, I would invite politicians down to talk to them. I’d invite [New York] Gov. [Andrew] Cuomo down to talk to me. I’d invite the mayor down to talk to me in New York.”
Though a precise road map may be impossible for Occupy Wall Street, their goals will remain out of reach if they cannot recruit and work with the men and women at the top. It’s nice to scream and yell about capitalism being corrupt, but how do we transition our current economy to something more equitable without assistance from those who control our banks?
Without enlisting the people who can change entrenched, stubborn institutions, Occupy Wall Street will continue hitting a brick wall, shouting and rallying without moving forward. The only way real change will come is if those who control the purse and political strings can be persuaded to ease their grip and give some power back to the people — and the only way they can be persuaded is if Occupy activists invite them to the table.
Plus, if people like Cuomo or Bloomberg balk at the offer or attempt to derail the movement’s momentum, the activists will have even more evidence of how lawmakers and rainmakers on Wall Street indeed want to keep the 99% under their boot.
That’s the Catch-22 here: if politicians give too much support to Wall Street fat cats, they lose their populist support; if they back the activists, they lose important connections that helped propel them into office or boardrooms. The next show of bravery, then, will come not from the men and women occupying America, but from the men and women who have the ability to enact real change.
The ball, as they say, is in their court, and so far leaders like Bloomberg are dropping it. Though the New York City mayor backed down from his plans to evict the protesters, he did say last week that the Occupy movement is “hurting small businesses and families,” and Governor Cuomo attempted to evict protesters in Albany from their tent camp.
While Clinton’s correct when he says both sides need to work in concert, he clearly fails to see how reticent many of the nation’s leaders are to do so.