When The People Lead

[ Posted Tuesday, October 11th, 2011 – 16:34 UTC ]

The idea behind that title is: "When the People lead, the leaders will follow." I read this on a bumpersticker a few decades ago, although I must admit I haven't bothered to research the phrase's origins. Wherever it came from, the idea is a simple (and amusing) one: when the so-called "leaders" aren't leading, then the People will step in and do it for them. Eventually, the "leaders" will wake up to what is going on and get on board themselves, pretending to have led the movement all along.

The Occupy Wall Street movement raises a lot of various questions, but one of the most interesting is going to be: which leaders -- of which political parties -- decide to get on the bandwagon? Of course, the storyline right now swirls around Democrats, since the media persists in seeing the movement as a Lefty version of the Tea Party. But this analysis is too facile, for two reasons.

First, Occupy Wall Street is more akin to the Tea Party than the media has realized, in one particular: they aren't out there for any political party, because they believe both political parties have betrayed them to one degree or another. The very first Tea Party rallies were just as enraged at Republicans as Democrats -- because (according to the Tea Partiers) Republicans had held the White House and both houses of Congress, and they "spent like drunken sailors" while they were in power. The Tea Partiers didn't trust either party, and the Occupy Wall Street folks are similar in this respect. Listen to them -- many Obama policies (and top advisors) are denounced by the crowd, just as fiercely as they denounce the big banks. The movement may be closer aligned with what the Democratic Party is supposed to stand for, and it'd probably be a good bet that any of the protesters who vote will likely check the box for Democrats -- in the same way most Tea Partiers check the box for Republicans. But that doesn't mean the Democratic Party has any particular claim on the Occupy Wall Street movement. I'll put it another way: did the Republican Party co-opt the Tea Partiers, or did the Tea Partiers in fact co-opt the Republican Party? Think for a moment: who, exactly, is genuflecting in front of whose altar?

The second reason why the media's storyline of "the Tea Party of the Democrats" is wrong is that the movement -- by remaining purposefully vague on their goals -- can be joined by anyone who believes in "the 99 percent." Which, shockingly enough, might mean some Republican politicians decide that it'd be a good idea to get on board (or at least show some sympathy) for the movement. I heard this opinion on one of the Sunday morning political chatfests this weekend, from a Republican consultant. He said, in essence, that Republicans would be smart to agree with the Occupy Wall Street and make the attempt to co-opt the movement for the Republican Party.

This isn't as crazy as it might sound. While the initial response to the movement from most Republicans was knee-jerk sneering, some have started to re-think this strategy. After all, is it really a good idea to get on the wrong side of a movement which -- rightly or wrongly -- self identifies itself as "99 percent" of America? You might raise a lot of campaign cash from the other one percent, but nobody gets elected to any office with only one percent of the vote.

Of course, that's overstating the case by quite a bit, I realize. But I find it interesting to see the Republican presidential candidates have started speaking a little more respectfully of the movement in the past few days. The most interesting thing in tonight's televised debate between the Republican contenders is going to be how they deal with questions about the protests.

Of course, the people actually on the streets are not going to take kindly to any attempt by politicians to horn in on their movement. Democratic officeholders have already shown up at some of these movements -- and not been allowed to speak at the microphone. Political opportunism is pretty easy to spot, after all.

But the real impact may be larger. Assuming for the moment that the movement keeps growing and getting stronger (which is a huge assumption, I fully admit), the wider impact may be on the people at home who haven't joined in one of the protests themselves. If Occupy Wall Street gets the support of suburban voters (and others) not physically present at the protests, it could transform itself into something much bigger. Of the people who say they support the Tea Party when a pollster calls up, for instance, only a tiny fraction has ever actually attended a Tea Party rally. And it is this wider audience the politicians will be playing to.

By showing sympathy to a movement that a large portion of the country is also sympathetic towards, politicians build their own popular support. But while everyone expects Democrats to play this game in the coming months, it will be more interesting (to me, at least) to see what happens on the other side of the political divide. In other words, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if more than one Republican tonight speaks kindly of the aims of Occupy Wall Street. The People are leading. But it's an open question as to which "leaders" will be following them.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


6 Comments on “When The People Lead”

  1. [1] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    i don't know if he was the first to say it, but gandhi is known to have said, "There go my people. i must catch up with them, for I am their leader."

  2. [2] 
    akadjian wrote:

    A recent Fox News poll even seemed to indicate support from many who identify as Republicans. Fascinating ...

    Mitt Romney has so far been the smartest of the Republican politicians and backed off his early negative comments.

  3. [3] 
    Osborne Ink wrote:

    I called a mic check last Friday and strangers rushed up to me with signs. We're recruiting on campus tomorrow. Alabama is being occupied as you read this!

  4. [4] 
    akadjian wrote:

    Go Osbourne go!

    I went down to Occupy Cincinnati this past weekend and donated to buy some sleeping bags for the group. Unfortunately, I can only visit because I have to occupy my job.

    Not saying this like a conservative pundit would, it's just the sad fact that it's real work to occupy and I'm part of the 9 to 5 set. So I do what I can do. *sigh*

    Fight the good fight, Osbourne!

  5. [5] 
    dsws wrote:

    I can't speak from personal observation about OWS in New York, but here in Boston, unions seem to be the backbone. They may not be the couple hundred people sleeping in tents. But they seem to be the ones getting thousands of people to march. And they're a long-established Democratic constituency -- just as the Libertarian movement is a long-established Republican constituency.

    Yes, the Libertarian movement grumbles about Republicans. Occasionally they do a primary challenge that can cost Republicans a seat. Occasionally they let a Republican lose by having markedly lower than usual levels of activism and turnout. Occasionally they even run a Libertarian party candidate. But they're solidly in the Republican camp, just as they were before they adopted the Tea Party label.

    Yes, the unions and the ideological left grumble about Democrats. Many among the ideological left are completely out of the electoral process. We* don't have clout with Democrats anything like what the various strands of the ultra-extreme right have with Republicans. Partly that's because the ideological left has too little organization to have any meaningful political identity at all. But on the whole, we're in the Democratic camp, just as we were before Occupy Wall Street began.

    *I have no union affiliation. I consider myself part of the ideological left. I have no say in the actions or organization Occupy Boston, but I contributed some signs including this large one over the assembly area.

  6. [6] 
    tommymccarthy wrote:

    I merely wanted to congratulate "dsws" on his assistance to the "Occupy Boston" protesters.
    What an excellent choice of words......they should put that in the Constitution or something...don't you think?

    Today is Monday....nearly a week after this posting of Chris'......There have been several posts since...all of which I have read...(as always)...either here or on the old venue.

    I chose to respond to THIS one in particular for two reasons:

    First of all, it seemed a good spot to (possibly) "get a word in edgewise" (as it were).

    More importantly, I find "OWS" to be (potentially) the most important political development since the fall of "the wall".....and (I say with great SADNESS) the candidacy of Barack Obama in 2008.

    The people are YEARNING for a way to express themselves....and are NOT finding it through the electoral process.....and likely will not..... as Obama's candidacy (one thing)...and administration (quite another) SO graphically point out.

    A veteran of the anti-war movement......

    Well, it's at this point I always "reign in" my impulses....and I do so again.....and advise others to do the same. The internet is NOT anonymous after all.

    I WILL say, and personal LARGE numbers....with a VERY high degree of personal commitment to actual change (I mean beyond chanting "Yes we can" and writing a check) what will be required ...IF it is not already too late.

    On the TV box just tonight:

    I watched young people all over the WORLD joining the struggle.....
    I watched ONE Iraq veteran stand down a phlanx of NYPD clearly ITCHING to join their Chicago 68' forbearers in mayhem against fellow members of the working class........using nothing but his voice and his MORAL SUPERIORITY

    I also watched Tom Hayden spout the sort of false equivilancies that would make a younger Tom hide his face in shame.(I hid MINE on his behalf)

    I saw what were described as "students" (the approved term for "young people") in MANY foriegn capitals enthusiastically joining the struggle.

    And MUCH more willing to freely excercise their "free speech" rights.....even without the benefit of a Constitution..(a document with less relevence than the LL Bean catalogue here in corporate/homeland Amerika)

    Plainly (in modern parlance) "It's ON!"

    Where it stops nobady knows......but it's DEEPLY gratifying to see....

    Among my very FAVORITE date...has been watching politicians and spin doctors left and right "harruph" and opine learnedly about whether this enhances or detracts from the relative position of (fill in the blank) Rick Perry, Barack Obama the Democratic, Republican, Tea or other party...when it is, in fact a complete REPUDIATION of ALL of them.

    Viva la Revolucion....and "buena suerte" to all...

    Never want to forget to thank Chris for providing the venue...& wish him and his well.


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