Occupying Wall Street and other city spaces for a month by assortments of individuals commanded broad attention and galvanized widespread apathy into action. The suppressed subtext of discontent with the exercise of economic power and its grave consequences suddenly became the text of prime time news. Although various groups such as UK/US/Uncut had spotlighted corporate conniving and tax evasion, they gained little traction among natural allies or consumers of news media because their actions were not well covered. But an action in Manhattan intended as a media event overflowed its vessel and leaked into the heartland, reverberated there, and then circled around the planet.
Encouraging people to speak up puts faces on grim economic statistics. Discovering that they are not alone emboldens them to change their circumstances. Because so many of them are proficient Net users, they are telling stories and forging connections at light speed, all the while on life support from companies such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo!, Apple and Microsoft. So perhaps is not corporations that are the problem, but rather the rules under which they operate and the ways in which they wield influence.
Energizing grassroots support for occupying Wall Street or wherever depends as much on mainstream media as it does on social media. As soon as victims of corporate greed see grievances like theirs proclaimed on the local news, they realize they are not alone and are motivated to chime in. Similarly informed by social media, many such folks would not react at all unless they were already in an activist frame of mind. Perhaps people are more susceptible to media messages than Internet ones because local news programs have conditioned them to react viscerally to personal tragedies. The financial crisis has engendered many personal tragedies, only now starting to be told on television and radio.
Mobilizing people to attend assemblies, picket institutions, press politicians, sign petitions, write letters and blogs and just talk to their neighbors and acquaintances adds momentum. Every act matters. Consider that each one percent of America's 99 percent is three million people. When was the last time three million Americans united to do anything, let alone forge a progressive movement? The Tea Party mobilized a lot of people, but we encompass more of humanity and have no sugar daddies or political operatives whispering to us -- at least so far.
Connecting #OccupyX to economic pain points makes it real for people. Teacher layoffs, union-busting, foreclosures, outsourcing, low-wage, dead-end jobs, pay cuts, unaffordable and unavailable health care, and tuition hikes all descend from the way the system is rigged to maximize profits and siphon them up the economic food chain. Motivating a multitude of groups to undertake targeted actions that matter to them applies systemic pressure on a spectrum of elites.
Rectifying concentrations of power that deprive people of rights, opportunities, livelihood and dignity is not impossible, but requires protracted struggle. We understand that without widespread apathy, the 1% cannot continue to dominate the rest of us. We have powerful enabling tools for working together and with our brothers and sisters worldwide. #Occupy movements already exist in about 1,500 cities around the world. In some of them, they are met with repression and police brutality. But they insist on being listened to and are being heard. Their and our continued creative and committed engagement will claw back what has been stolen from us, democratize politics and revitalize the public sphere.