Jeff Swicord | Washington
Liberal activists seem to be getting a boost from the spreading Occupy Wall Street protests in the United States. Their influence on American political dialogue is a work in progress.
The demonstrations in New York against corporate greed and war have spread to Washington and other cities.
The American political left appears to be getting new energy from the protests, which began last month near Wall Street. Trevor Bradford from North Carolina couldn’t wait to join in the occupation of Freedom Plaza a few blocks from the White House.
“The main thing that we have to do is that we have to keep these protests going no matter how small, even if there is just 10 people here every day of the week, 24-7,” said Bradford.
The protesters’ argument that Wall Street is responsible for the recession, and that working- and middle-class people are paying for it, resonates with many.
Veteran progressive activists see an opportunity. Georgetown University historian Michael Kazin writes about the American left.
“When Barack Obama’s opinion polls are fairly low, when the ratings of Congress are very low, it is as if there is no one to believe in anymore,” said Kazin. “And this [the protests] in some sense is progressives giving voice to that and trying to provide an analysis of what is wrong.”
David Soumis, a military veteran and anti-war protester from the Vietnam era, said, “I think the main thing is that the government and the people involved have to see what the people want. They have to see us out here in the street. And I think you are going to see more and more people taking part in these events.”
Political experts attribute the protests’ growth to tactics learned from the Arab Spring movements in Tunisia and Egypt. John Cavanagh, director of the Institute for Policy Studies, follows social movements around the world.
“They said, ‘this is the future, we are going to this square, and we are just, we are staying here. We are occupying this place until there is change. We are not leaving,’” said Cavanagh.
Many protesters want to build a national movement, but Kazin said their refusal to appoint leaders or set an agenda could make that difficult.
“In order for protest movement to sustain themselves, to become movements, and for those movements to have influence on American society and American politics, they have to come up with a strategy, organization, leaders,” said Kazin.
Many in Freedom Plaza on this day are from out of town. Some plan to come back to keep the protest going. Others want to go home and start occupations in their own towns.
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