Moving to Advocate Within the System
By Gabriel Rom
Many critics of the Occupy Wall Street movement have pointed out that their demands were so diffuse and their leadership structure so horizontal that they would only have a nominal affect on the political establishment. These criticisms are legitimate, but through a new organization called Occupy the Securities and Exchange Commission, OWS is beginning to circumvent traditional channels used to implement policy and is in the process carving out new routes of communication between the public and their elected officials.
Because the Occupy movement is so heterogeneous, local subfields of Occupy with their own distinct characteristics have emerged. Occupy Oakland has taken the most militaristic stance while other movements are emphatically non-violent. The New York Assembly analyzes policy, and recently released “Occupy The SEC,” a 325-page response to over 200 questions about financial regulations asked by the SEC, Federal Depository Insurance Corporation and other government agencies. These questions are technically open to the public, but because of their arcane nature they are usually only answered by the lobbyists and corporations affected by the legislation. Occupy the SEC’s web page encourages citizens to read multiple congressional reports and third party descriptions of how the Volcker Rule (part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Bill) will be implemented. In their response Occupy the SEC lays out a complex legal argument in support of the Volcker rule, as well as advocating for specific regulatory changes within the financial industry. Comprised of both disillusioned former financial sector employees and concerned citizens with no direct connection to Wall Street, Occupy the SEC speaks for public interest in direct competition with corporate interest.
Occupy the SEC is engaging with the political process more directly than similar-minded protest movements, not with drum circles or pithy placards but rather legitimate commentary on complex policy. If OWS combines this attitude with their discourse of the 99 percent versus the 1 percent, The movement could become a potent mix of populism and pragmatism.
Unlike the Tea Party, OWS has not officially endorsed any political candidates or organized political funding committees, and is generally perceived as uninterested in engaging with the political process in general. As Professor Villegas told the Observer two weeks ago, “So far there haven’t been any people who are willing to take up the mantle of the 99 percent label.” But if initiatives like Occupy the SEC continue to grow, these criticisms may miss the point because the OWS approach to policy implementation is different but no less serious than conventional methods.
OWS is evolving now that they have established themselves in American cultural and political discourse, and are making an effort at actual policy implementation. They still have a long way to go—one attempt at manipulating policy through traditional public comment is not a conclusive victory—but these developments might indicate more future political influence than its detractors would have you believe.