The Occupy Wall Street movement is growing as it expresses frustration of average Americans over the failure of the federal government to promote positive growth in the national economy. It's unfortunate the movement appears to be doomed to be little more than a loud, emotional outburst lacking stamina and direction.
If the individuals participating in Occupy Wall Street are unable to redirect their attention to solutions and cooperative action, they are essentially passing gas. It all starts with the instigator, the Adbusters July 13 appeal for "a shift in revolutionary tactics," creating #occupywallstreet and galvanizing the movement (www.adbusters.org).
The call to action likens the effort to the actions of Egyptian protesters in Tahrir Square, seeking 20,000 protesters to occupy Wall Street and "incessantly repeat one simple demand in a plurality of voices."
One problem has been: When the protesters gathered, there was no leader to speak for the plurality of voices. Rather, there were individuals voicing demands on disparate issues, most of which related to the influence of wealth on government. But individual protests over environmental policy, defense outlays, global trade, weakened labor laws, credit and mortgage policies and a dozen other points all fail to provide a focus on what the community wants to achieve.
The original Adbusters call was to have the protesting community "zero in on what our one demand will be." The protest proceeded without a focus on "one demand," resulting in an impression of anarchism without direction.
A more serious defect is that the simplified model for action based on the Arab Spring ignores the difference in the social-political environments. Egyptians, Tunisians, Libyans, Bahrainis, Yemenis and Syrians resorted to public protests because they have no alternative to foment change in their government.
In contrast, the United States has a well-established process for disaffected citizens to change government leadership and the direction of government. It's called elections.
In 2010, the Tea Party movement effected changes, albeit mostly in the form of increased obstructionism, by influencing the outcome of elections for Congress. The Tea Party has not succeeded in changing the government but has blocked some actions of government based on simplistic notions of the issues and causes of the country's economic doldrums.
Occupy Wall Street participants show no signs of having a better understanding of the complex elements that allow wealth to have an outsized, if not corrupting, influence on government policies. Political scientists Paul Pierson and Jacob Hacker wrote what could be a handbook for Occupy Wall Street, "Winner-Take-All Politics" (Simon & Schuster, 2010). It argues that inequality in income growth in the U.S. is the result of 40 years of government policies directing wealth from the middle class to the wealthy, dismantling the Glass-Steagall Act separating banks from investment firms and restricting labor organizations.
But Columbia University professor Robert C. Lieberman, citing Pierson-Hacker, adds their thesis is "long on diagnosis and rather short on treatment." In the 1970s, there was growing dissatisfaction with government, politics and policies, creating conditions for change, Lieberman says.
"Conservatives, on behalf of the wealthy, were ready with ideas and organization to seize the moment. Progressives and the middle class were not," he says ("Why the rich are getting richer," Foreign Affairs, January/February 2011; www.foreignaffairs.com).
Occupy Wall Street is not ready to make a difference if the irate crowds persist in demanding "democracy" rather than participating in it. With cooperative effort and focus to identify and elect worthy candidates, they can change the makeup of Congress in the 2012 elections, just as the Tea Party changed Congress in 2010. Street demonstrations won't do it.
* Edwin Tanji is a former city editor of The Maui News. He can be reached at email@example.com. "Haku Mo'olelo," "writing stories," is about stories that are being written or have been written. It appears every Friday.