Why the Occupy Wall Street Movement Will Soon Be Forgotten

As I strolled through McPherson Square in downtown Washington D.C., several weeks ago, I barely blinked at a few dozen forlorn tents, remnants of the once-relevant Occupy movement. It has been inconspicuously absent from headlines recently, the focus having shifted from political aims to eviction notices. Don't get me wrong, I am indisputably part of the 99% (albeit the upper-middle class variety), but I am afraid the movement is well on its way to becoming an afterthought. Occupy Wall Street has chosen to remain party-less and leaderless, and this choice not to organize into a sustainable political force will ultimately render it meaningless.

Without an effort to differentiate itself, Occupy’s politically viable positions will likely be adopted by the Democratic Party, which will use these ideas to attract OWS supporters looking to participate in the electoral process. I would argue this very occurrence stole the wind from the sails of Ross Perot and the Reform Party in the 1990s. Perot’s platform of government reform and balancing the budget probably sounds familiar, though Perot and his party have become charicatures.

It may not be a perfect comparison, but in its infancy the Tea Party resembled efforts of Occupy Wall Street, namely a pushback against a corrupted system. But it swiftly changed from a few dozen angry baby-boomers in lawn chairs into a full-blown political force. When Glenn Beck hosted his Rally to Restore Honor in October 2012, I interviewed a slew of attendees, many of whom sought great fiscal responsibility from the federal government and others that were just there to pick up those trendy "Don't Tread On Me" flags and bumper stickers. Yet, that rally represented a turning point for the Tea Party: Glenn Beck and his cohorts emerged as the faces of the Tea Partiers. Then and there the Tea Party morphed into the Republican Party’s hangnail, and though it has not made nearly the impact that many hoped, it has punched far above its weight.

The United States, whether we like it or not, is haplessly bound to a rigid two-party system. America's political system is Duverger's Law in action; without a "D" or "R" next to his or her name, a political candidate is unlikely to have an impact. That being said, I can unequivocally state that without coherent leadership OWS will never be anything more than a movement that started an important discussion. Occupy Wall Street’s aims are clearly laid out. It has refused to endorse any candidates, accept anyone with shared goals, remain politically unaffiliated, and express an unwavering commitment to non-violence. This is an immensely admirable, yet entirely unsustainable, strategy.

The movement is in serious danger of being merely a story I mention to my grandchildren. I get it: forming a permanent political entity would run contrary to OWS’s stated principles. I am not necessarily suggesting the Occupiers latch onto the Democratic Party, but they must make an effort to morph from mere advocates into real policymakers. Instead of shying away from traditional leadership roles, OWS ought to select truly representative leaders that have an opportunity to make an impact on The Hill. Sure, this would require some fundamental changes within the movement, but the other option is becoming a blurb in a middle school textbook. 

Photo Credit: Doctor Tongs

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Todd Ruffner

Currently working at a DC-based nonprofit that focuses on US policy toward the Middle East and democratic movements within the region. I am also a recent graduate of Ohio State University's Near Eastern and Languages Master's Program and am particularly interested in democracy development throughout the Middle East. I conducted my Master's research on Iran-Iraq border relations in the 20th century with a focus on Khuzestan and the Shatt al-Arab. I am also a proficient Farsi speaker and have lived in both Cairo and Damscus while completing my undergraduate studies at Elon University.

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