It's the process, people

What does Occupy Wall Street want? What are its demands. Policy recommendations? It's all well and good to be angry about the recession, but what would you have us do, exactly?

All these questions maybe miss the point.

My mom called me while I was standing in Foley Square in downtown Manhattan on Thursday night where over 30,000 people gathered for a rally before making their way over the Brooklyn Bridge. She told me she'd passed by protestors gathered in Acton (my hometown, in the suburbs of Boston) with 99% signs. That she beeped and waved and sent money to Occupy Boston.

I was thrilled to hear Acton was occupied and I guess, proud. It has always seemed to be a place of civic responsibility, a town that takes pride in its proximity to the birthplace of the American Revolution. But I hadn't thought of it in relation to this recent movement, one which, to quote a protestor marching ahead of me Thursday, made me "optimistic for the first time in my adult life".

I went home that night and searched for Occupy Acton. I found a video of their occupation, and listened to some guy talk about Acton's democratic tradition and the fact that they continue to carry on an open town meeting. That's how they make decisions. When there's a conflict or big decision to be made, citizens of the town show up in the High School auditorium, make their points, argue face to face, then vote and call it for the majority. By participating, you agree to comply with the majority rule. You may or may not agree with that ruling, but the important point is you've agreed to abide by it.

There are only two major, really heated votes I remember in taking place during my Acton tenure. In one case, my father was deeply involved, engaging neighbors, conducting research, drafting proposals, and finally making an impassioned speech in front of several hundred locals. In both these cases, we left on the losing side. We were disappointed. That night after my dad's speech we pulled out of the parking lot seething with a mix of sadness and fury. Then the next day we woke up, and went about our business, and complied with the will of the opposition.

As the NYTimes argued beautifully in its Opinion pages after Clinton was impeached in 1999, the test of a democracy isn't the first president ruling peaceably, it's the first person voted out of office packing his bags and going home. The party impeaching the president had not gotten over their guy's (Bush Senior) single-term presidency. They never got over Clinton beating him in 1992. They were using millions in taxpayer money and every tactic they had to exact revenge on the guy who moved in after him. They did not accept the will of the people.

The Republicans in Congress today have made it clear--they're not even trying to hide it--that the single most important goal for them is to get Obama out of office. They are willing to sacrifice the country's health and safety in order to do that. They've bragged about it. Back in 1801, when John Adams got his suitcase out of the White House closet and started tossing his shirt vests and stockings inside, he was probably seething and just a little eensy bit disappointed. But the people had spoken, and he deferred to their will. He went home (to Massachusetts). If Obama loses in 2012, we'll expect him to do the same thing.

What we can't do is suppress votes or let banks create policy for us. We can't let the courts decide that corporations are human beings except that they can never be charged with a crime. We can't let money control the media. We can't let the media keep reporting on facts as if they were matters of legitimate debate simply because the one dissenting scientist out of 20,000 leading international experts has more money backing him than the other 20,000 combined.We can't let corporations donate obscene sums of money to political campaigns and therefore handpick the public servents that serve them rather than the public.

Enter Occupy Wall Street.

Occupy protestors aren't there to draft policy, at least not yet. They're not there to make budget demands or recommendations. What they're there for is to show that the 99% still exist, even though it hasn't seemed like it for at least a decade or two. They're there to say that we've lost our way, that we're no longer participating in our government, that--forget outcome--we're not engaged in the process anymore. The democratic process has been hijacked. The people are not being heard. Remember James Carville in Clinton's 1992 campaign, the one where he beat Bush Senior, saying, "It's the economy, stupid"? Well, here's today's equivalent: It's the process, stupid.

The point is: we are the 99% and we need to reclaim our democracy from war profiteers and bankers that engage in illegal speculation and then appoint themselves to top government positions. We don't need to draft charts comparing OWS objectives to the Tea Party's. We shouldn't pit one against the other. Of course the anonymous corporations making a killing off class warfare they've engaged in for 40 years would love to see that. "See how much you guys hate each other? You're never going to agree."

It's true. We may never agree on outcome. Tea Partiers may want to go on cutting taxes for millionaires, dismantling Social Security (the single most effective anti-poverty program ever, so well-funded it has lent money to the rest of the government for decades), and destroying public education.

But what we all agree on is the point that we no longer feel we're being represented by our government. We don't have to agree on the outcome of our decisions, all we have to agree on is the decision-making process, and compliance with the outcome of a decision-making process that's fair. 

True patriots love their country, and believe it can be better. They're willing to face opposition to make it that way. They're willing to speak up, speak out, occupy, hold candles, be arrested, face twisted expressions, pepper spray, rubber bullets and silent disdain. In our 235-year history, millions have given their lives to protect that right for the rest of us. If you're confused about what occupiers want, think back to junior high history. If you're still confused, ask yourself why. Then try to answer. Come down to your town square, local rally, or Kelly's Corner on Main Street in Acton, Massachusetts. Honor your right to civic participation. It's an essential part of democracy.


  1. One of those Acton decisions was about letting the kids from Maynard, the neighboring town, (which relative to Acton was rather poor and underprivileged) into our high school, allowing them to join our school. I think it was like 50 kids total or maybe 100. It wasn't much. I still think it was totally sh*tty that Acton didn't let them in because they would have...brought down our average test scores?Didn't pay high enough property taxes? Or I remember some fakakta excuse about we didn't have enough lockers. I still feel bad about it.

  2. "We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both." Justice Louis Brandeis


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