Occupiers must now take over the polls

There is power in presence.

The thousands of Americans who have gathered in cities across the country have made it clear that they have had enough with “business as usual” on Capitol Hill.

But after four long weeks of camping in parks and plazas from New York City and Boston to Phoenix and Oakland, Calif., Occupiers must use the attention they have garnered and focus on how exactly they would like to see corporate influence decreased in politics.

The “we are the 99 percent” slogan signs deploring inequality and decrying corruption must go beyond complaining about the economic crisis. Rather, protestors should use them to form a proposal that will guide voters. Should this happen, there is the potential to make a major political impact in the 2012 election.

A recent edition of The New York Times’ “Room for Debate” series analyzed the Occupy movement. Commentators from various academic backgrounds weighed in on the occupiers’ anger. The general consensus was widespread expression of discontentment can create a discussion bringing about change. But it could also spiral out of control.

“Anger alone cannot do,” Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar, a professor of history and the associate dean for the humanities at the University of Connecticut, wrote.

Our nation’s economic issues will not be resolved any time soon. Yet people have stood up and voiced their feelings of betrayal to the banks and politicians. One such Occupy Phoenix protest speaker complained on Oct. 15 that politicians have become “high-priced prostitutes” for corporations.

This is a step in the right direction, should we wish to change the current system.

Now that Occupiers are expressing themselves, hopefully the government will listen. They think mortgages, loans and health care programs serve corporate spreadsheets more than the average individual. Protestors are calling on those in office address this imbalance in their campaigns.

According to Pew Research Center polls, many Americans also agree there is a gap between the “haves” and “have-nots.” They also believe Congress favors the interests of the wealthy and powerful.

The speakers who are encouraging Occupiers to contact their representatives must redouble their efforts. Civic engagement must be the goal. Occupying a public space “until forever” or when change is made, as the Occupy Oakland website says, hardly does any good.

The Oct. 29 general assembly at César Chávez Plaza in downtown Phoenix supported a reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, a regulation that separated commercial and investment banks. It was repealed in 1999 and believed by many in Congress to be the last safeguard against making banks “too big to fail,” according to The Huffington Post.

Also on the general Occupy agenda is an overturning of the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court decision that allowed third parties to spend unlimited amounts of money during elections.

Citizens of democracies have the unique duty and privilege of selecting their leaders. The very heart of civic engagement includes protesting and voting. Thus the goal of any protest is to bring awareness of an issue to the forefront and the ballot.

The Occupy movement’s goal to “lead against corporate greed,” a chant heard at the Oct. 15 Occupy Phoenix event, should be interpreted as a call to inform ourselves and vote in a way that protects our power.

We can no longer forfeit our power to corporations by remaining uninformed and passive in politics, and we must understand that the Occupy protests are only a means to this end.

 

Reach the columnist at jlgunthe@asu.edu

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