The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

November 20, 2011

Occupy Wall Street protests changed the conversation

Daily Star

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During the past week, numerous Occupy Wall Street encampments have been shut down in cities across the country, with police making arrests and sometimes clashing with campers and their supporters. Early Tuesday, police cleared demonstrators from Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan, the movement's first and largest base, and arresting more than 100 people.

Now that so many of the Occupy Wall Street encampments are being shut down by police, rather than the arrival of winter weather, it is clear that the vision of tents in a park associated with the movement is changing.

It is time for those in the movement to sit back, regroup, define the cause more pragmatically and adopt new strategies in achieving its goal: Enfranchising the 99 percent of Americans who are forced to live with just 65 percent of the wealth and even less clout in a political system that is not responding to people's needs.

Kalle Lasn, a founder of the Adbusters culture-critique magazine that called for the Occupy Wall Street movement, said, yes, activists should use "the winter to brainstorm, network, build momentum so that we may emerge rejuvenated with fresh tactics, philosophies, and myriad projects ready to rumble next spring."

One Zuccotti Park organizer told The Associated Press that shutting down a park here and an encampment there couldn't stop the movement.

"You can't evict an idea whose time has come," he said.

It is entirely possible that demonstrations across the country will become more like the rallies that have been occurring in Oneonta each Saturday for the past month. Local organizers have no intent on giving up the fight and plan to continue in their attempts to push the cause and educate those who still wonder what it's all about.

While the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators in New York City and elsewhere gained media coverage by having large marches and encampments that resulted in arrests and confrontations with police, the local movement, Occupy Together Otsego, has stayed within the law and secured permits when necessary.

"Our strength comes from a devoted core group that is working to improve our GAs (meetings) and the rallies," according to participant Allan Schramm, of Oneonta. "The rallies have gotten better each Saturday," he continued, "and we've all gotten to know each other and better appreciate our individual and group strengths. I am very encouraged by the progress that we're making."

The Oneonta rallies, which are the first local demonstrations regarding national issues since the earlier days of the Iraq war, have attracted a mix of young and old, students and working people, union members, the unemployed and retirees.

In other words, participants represent an accurate cross-section of area residents.

A local organizer, Misty Miller, of Cooperstown, said "the protests are happening because people do not feel heard, they feel that their needs are pushed aside for those needs of the corporations, or those who have the most money."

That's nothing new, according to G. William Domhoff, who nearly 45 years ago published "Who Rules America," one of the primers of the movement. He said wealth distribution has been extremely concentrated throughout American history; in the 19th century, the top 1 percent already owned 40-50 percent in most large East Coast cities.

"The most important corporations, foundations, universities, mass media, and private associations are part of a power elite that serves the interests of an American upper class of rich businessmen and their interests," Domhoff wrote in 1967.

Miller said demonstrators want to share that knowledge by using their right of free speech to speak out and seek unity with others across the nation facing the same deaf ears in Washington. "Many of us see our government as corrupt and we have seen that mere voting does not secure us the action we seek," she said.

Lasn, of Adbusters, has said the movement should repeat one simple demand: the need for "a Presidential Commission tasked with ending the influence money has over our representatives in Washington."

But is there any chance of that happening? Perhaps there is, as awareness grows.

A study on the widening income gap released in 2010 by Michael I. Norton and Dan Ariely showed that most Americans, regardless of income level, gender and age, had no idea just how concentrated the wealth distribution in the nation really is.

Well, in just two months, without leaders and without any specific demands, the Occupy Wall Street movement has been able to spur what's being called a "national conversation" about that issue and big money's control of government.

Cary Brunswick, of Oneonta, is a freelance writer and editor. He can be reached at