*Over the past few months a grassroots movement has grown. Beginning in the financial district in New York City and spreading around the country and world protestors are upset about the financial system and its connections to government.
The Occupy Wall Street movement is direct democracy at its best. But that is also the biggest flaw in this protest movement.
Direct democracy is an ideal way for multiple viewpoints and grievances to be heard. Indeed because of the myriad of people participating in the protest, and the various industries they worked in, there are many different problems with the current system being highlighted. Furthermore the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators are proud to state that there is no formal leadership structure.
Occupy Wall Street works fine as a concept or even on a small scale. But within a representative governmental system such as the United States, the direct democracy model that Occupy Wall Street uses will never be successful in producing the change they presumably seek.
The biggest roadblock is the absence of leadership. Having spokespeople who can act on behalf of a large number of constituents is what our government is founded on, and therefore what it responds to. This is not simply our government being elitist, but it is also a logistical matter. If anyone in authority wanted to address the issues being raised by the Occupy Wall Street activists they would currently need to speak with numerous sources. This is much less efficient than having to deal with only one person or a small group of people.
In addition, being in a position of leadership usually implies some skill in confrontation and/or compromise. Without any recognized leaders those sitting in each day in lower Manhattan are leaving it to chance that should the opportunity arise, the government agent will converse with the people who can voice the majority of concerns and argue effectively for changes within the current political-financial system. That’s a substantial leap of faith.
In recent history the United States has seen the formation and emergence of the Tea Party, another grassroots movement with lots of populist support. These financial conservatives have been successful in inserting their issues into the national debate. This happened because they had leaders (even if they were not always endorsed by the Tea Party, conservative politicians had access to the mechanisms of government) that could summarize the groups desires in a concise way and speak to key people to try and change policy.
Tea Partiers express dissatisfaction with government but still recognize that working with and within government is the way to change. Occupy Wall Streeters need to see past their dislike of government and imitate that modus operandi.
Of course as the title of my column will illustrate, I support the concept of socialism. Socialism is a system of government that tempers the evils of capitalism by not allowing people to profit as much from their greed. But another distinguishing characteristic of socialism is that its adherents attempt to work within a functional government system. The only way Occupy Wall Street activists will see their goals realized without leadership is to foster a revolution – WHICH THEY DO NOT ADVOCATE – but unfortunately that is a totally unrealistic option.
In other words they need to become a little bit more organized. They may have the right message but they also need the right messenger.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected]