Occupy 2012: What Is the Movement’s Role?

Some experts say it should use the civil rights movement as a guide.

Posted: 01/31/2012 01:29 PM EST

The Occupy Movement in recent days has been in the national spotlight with images of violent clashes between law enforcement and Occupy Oakland and of protesters camped out in a Washington, D.C., park defiantly ignoring orders to vacate. In a recent Ipsos poll, 45 percent of Americans say they sympathize with the movement, but still, they wonder: what’s it all about?

 

As the nation prepares to celebrate Black History Month, occupiers could take a lesson from the civil rights movement on how to run a revolution. It had both a strong organizational base, provided training and, more importantly, had tangible goals.

 

Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant, activist pastor and a co-founder of Occupy the Dream, likened the Occupy Movement’s first four months to the process of puberty. After “incredible initial momentum,” the group now must evolve into a more mature establishment.

 

“Occupy’s aim has been gray and must become clearer, as in 'we’re staying until what happens?'” said Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant, activist pastor and co-founder of Occupy the Dream. “With the civil rights movement, it was 'we’re going to march until we can ride anywhere on the bus. We’re going to boycott until we can sit at the lunch counter.'”

 

Bryant believes that in addition to pushing economic issues, it could be a real driving force behind get-out-the-vote and voter registration efforts. And if they want to impact policy, they need to “let those who are in politics know that there’s a groundswell that’s really rising up to hold them accountable.”

 

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. also believes that the movement could play a big role in the 2012 election cycle by registering and voting in record numbers to defeat the GOP in the fall. “And then keep the pressure on the president, the House and the Senate to bring greater economic justice to the U.S. and pressure us to put Americans back to work,” Jackson said.

 

College students, many of whom are about to face the real world, could play a significant role in helping the movement spread its message. When the civil rights movement was faltering, Bryant said, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee gave it greater focus through its involvement in Southern voter registration drives.

 

“No revolution in history has been led by senior citizens. Occupy should go onto campuses, let students know what's at stake and once young people understand the realities, it will be an easy buy-in,” Bryant said.

Van Jones, founder of Rebuild the Dream, suggested three issues he thinks would resonate with Americans — the frightening level of influence super PACs are having on the political process, home mortgages and student loans.

 

“In 2011, it was all about pointing to the villains, which in their mind was Wall Street and the big banks,” said Jones. “I think that in 2012, it has to be about pointing to the victims — homeowners, students, voters and people who are being disadvantaged and getting very specific about remedies.”

Occupiers don’t have to fix the problems, he added — just fixate Americans’ attention on them.

 

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(Photo: REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz)

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