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Robert Reich

Happy birthday, Occupy!

As the two year anniversary of "Occupy" approaches, Reich explores Occupy's failures and what happens next. 

By Guest blogger / September 16, 2013

A view of the Occupy Wall Street encampment at Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan. As the two year anniversary of "Occupy" approaches, Reich explores current economic inequality and what happens next.

Mike Segar/Reuger/File

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Two years ago the “Occupy” movement roared into view, summoning the energies and attention of large numbers of people who felt the economic system had got out of whack and were determined to do something about it.

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Robert is chancellor’s professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Clinton. Time Magazine named him one of the 10 most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written 13 books, including “The Work of Nations,” his latest best-seller “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future," and a new e-book, “Beyond Outrage.” His new movie, "Inequality for All," is available on Netflix. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause.

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Occupy put the issue of the nation’s savage inequality on the front pages, and focused America’s attention on what that inequality was doing to our democracy. To that extent, it was a stirring success.

But Occupy eschewed political organization, discipline, and strategy. It wanted to remain outside politics, and outside any hierarchical structure that might begin to replicate the hierarchies of American society it was opposing. 

So when mayors, other public officials, and university administrators cleared the Occupy encampments by force — encampments that had become the symbol of the movement — nothing seemed to remain behind. Some Occupiers made plans for further actions, but a movement without structure, discipline, and strategy proved incapable of sustaining itself. 

All major social-change movements in American history that widened opportunity and made this a more just society — women’s suffrage, the labor union movement, the civil rights movement, the anti Vietnam War movement, the environmental movement, the gay rights movement — have depended, to some extent, on leaders who helped guide them, and decision-making structures that provided discipline and strategy for those who joined.

These movements could sustain themselves over many years, sometimes many decades, because they consciously maintained hope on the basis of small but concrete victories, built their numbers by choosing their battles carefully, and kept their eyes on the big prizes. They educated the public about what was at stake, and then used public pressure to push elected representatives. 

Occupy served an important purpose, but lacking these essentials it couldn’t do more. Inequality is worse now than it was then, and our democracy in as much if not more peril. So what’s the next step?

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best economy-related bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. This post originally ran on www.robertreich.org.

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