Occupy Wall Street, Act II: Go local
With many encampments razed or in jeopardy, Occupy Wall Street needs a second act. For now, many activists are settling on issues of concern to local residents. Will that weaken the movement, or strengthen it?
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"The better approach is to focus on local issues that are crystallizations of national issues but in a local context," says Dr. Ciccariello-Maher.Skip to next paragraph
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Critics of the movement are dubious.
"As the Occupy movement becomes embroiled in local issues, it is the beginning of the end of the movement," predicts David Johnson, a Republican political consultant based in Atlanta and a former speechwriter for ex-Sen. Bob Dole, in an e-mail. "It loses focus from its national objectives, and local issues then lessen the cohesion of the movement."
In Los Angeles, where homeless people had occupied as many as half of the 500 tents that sprawled alongside City Hall before the site was razed, activists are tackling some root causes of homelessness, such as bank foreclosures. The group is demanding a moratorium on foreclosures from Bank of America.
"We are a microcosm of the larger issues," says Alissa Kokkins, a screenwriter and researcher who pitched a tent in the encampment on Day 1 and stayed until the city cleared it on Nov. 30.
In the Midwest, Occupy activists in Chicago and Detroit have rushed to tackle local issues. The Chicago chapter has teamed up with Stand Up! Chicago, a coalition of social and economic justice organizations. They and the nearby Springfield Occupy group are fighting Illinois's proposed $250 million-a-year corporate tax-break package intended to keep the two financial exchanges (the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Board of Trade) and the Sears Holding Corp. from moving out of the state.
Occupy proposes that a speculation fee be imposed on both of the financial exchanges. Occupy is "helping amplify our voice and we help amplify theirs," says Stand Up's Catherine Murrell.
Over in Detroit, "we really don't have to look far to see the incredible injustices that the 99 percent of Americans are facing," says local Occupy activist Jonas Goldstein, a 20-something economic researcher for a union. "Our city is crumbling. There is a lack of infrastructure; there are people with serious mental illness left on the street. If things are bad in the country, they're acutely bad in Detroit." An offshoot of the movement, Occupy the Hood, has begun to tackle local needs through projects such as food and clothing drives.
Even as Occupy organizers steer the movement toward local citizens' concerns, some observers predict that they will arrive quite naturally at the juncture of local, state, and national politics.
For instance, students on college campuses are increasingly organizing around their top local issue: tuition costs. As they work to solve the college-affordability problem for poor and middle-class families, they will have to address the political system, says Joan Mandle, executive director of Democracy Matters, a national student-based organization dedicated to campaign finance reform and removing "big private money" from politics. With states picking up a declining share of public university costs, the tuition burden is not only a local campus issue but also a state political one, she says.