Larry Mantle

Where does Occupy go from here?

At least for now, there won’t be any tents at the park where Occupy Wall Street has been protesting for two months.  Other sites are being considered, but it’s not clear what form the protests will now take.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck says he’s moving toward shutting down the City Hall camp.  The future of local protests will, similarly, be in doubt.

For me, the bigger question is whether this movement can connect with the larger portion of the “99-percent,” who don’t find the Occupy movement culturally familiar or attractive.  A huge portion of the country shares the anger, frustration, and critique provided by Occupy, but sees it as a liberal, not populist, movement.  If Occupy is going to catch fire, I think it needs to tap into that populist sensibility.

However, it’s not clear to me that participants in Occupy have a cultural affinity for, or knowledge of, working class residents in the heartland.  Those are the voters who decided the elections in favor of both Bush and Obama.  They weren’t comfortable with John Kerry, but responded to Barack Obama’s message of hope.  They’re angry with Washington, don’t feel they have a voice, and will most likely again decide next year’s election. Once we better know the demands of the Occupy movement, we’ll also have an idea whether they coincide with fixes that significant numbers of Americans will support. 

Though Republican leaders claimed that the Tea Party’s election victories last year were a national referendum on the size and power of government, they were, instead, targeted localized victories that added up a Congressional surge.  The Tea Party doesn’t represent most Americans, but has still become influential.  However, we’re seeing its limits in the Republican Presidential race, where a non-Tea Party Mitt Romney is the frontrunner. 

For now, Occupy has garnered considerable attention and support.  Whether it will translate into a political movement remains to be seen.

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