I received some pushback to my post (rant) on the Occupy movement. There are many educated, productive, thoughtful, smart folks who believe there is something important underlying this movement — that it cannot be ignored and should be respected and understood. Rather than look for new friends, I decided to change my perspective and take on a different view.
The first step was to move away from large-scale bombastic statements about the entire movement and its futility — don’t boil the ocean. The Occupy movement may not have collectively expressed a unified set of goals but within the blogs and other information that is being shared, there is a real desire for positive change that I can relate to (I am currently - ahem - underemployed and my wranglings with Wells Fargo exhaust me - as a mortgage industry insider, this is a topic for another post).
The second step was to leverage my experience turning strategy into action (I am a consultant and a personal trainer). A peaceful protest can be effective at achieving a specific and well-defined outcome, but a broad based movement that is addressing systemic problems needs identifiable actions to make effective use of its energy and resources. A quick analogy for the kind of transformation I am after (please do not take any offense — no religious or political views are expressed — this is only an analogy). A person who was part of my “inner circle” was a seriously devout Catholic. Every year, he would attend the Right to Life march on the steps of the Supreme Court and felt he was doing his part to end legal abortions in this country. However, this person never spent a resource (time or money) working with any of the Catholic organizations that help the women who find themselves pregnant in challenging circumstances and ensure that if babies are born, they have what they need. In my view, the effectiveness of the march was greatly diminished if its participants were not willing to follow it up with actions.
I began compiling a list of opportunities for the people invested in the Occupy movement to help effect positive change in our country - how can we Rockupy. The list grows every day, but here is a starter.
•Take part in the political process. And I don’t just mean vote — run for office or help others who share your views run for office. At all levels of government — neighborhood, city, state, etc. The Washington Post did an excellent article on several qualified candidates for the GOP who don’t have the funding to participate in the race and remain anonymous (“Buddy Roemer among those struggling for a slot in GOP presidential race” Dec 8, 2011, by Eli Saslow). There is a Center for American Women and Politics whose sole mission is to recruit a new generation of experienced women to run for office in 2012. How can the Occupy movement help these folks? Can social media and the new information paradigm help to get a new breed of public servants elected? I am not suggesting the Occupy movement try and put forth a successful Presidential candiate, but a City Council or Chamber of Commerce or School Board with an influx of candidates who truly represent the 99% is possible and it can grow over time.
•Support existing change agents. There are a vast number of organizations dedicated to making changes — providing food and shelter for the needy, re-training the unemployed, feeding hungry children, breaking the cycle of domestic violence — and on and on. These organizations are struggling under the twin burdens of increased need and reduced resources. Start by using your General Assemblies as forums to work with these organizations, brainstorming ideas and solutions to problems as well as offering resources.
•Partner with philanthropists. Many philanthropists and foundations welcome credible information about worthy causes and how to ensure their contributions achieve maximum benefit. Robert McCartney wrote a fantastic column for the Washington Post on Sept 25, 2011 (“The $1 billion question: How can we create jobs?). The column is about philanthropist Bill Conway, a co-founder of the Carlyle group, who wants to give $1 billion of his wealth away to worthy causes before he dies. Conway doesn’t want just “simple giveaways” - he wants to create something more lasting — ideally to “create large numbers of productive self-sustaining jobs for the poor.” He publishes an email address (firstname.lastname@example.org - copy email@example.com). Here is someone from the 1% asking for ways to help the 99% — that is exactly what the Occupy movement is about!
•Man the phones. I recently read a story (in the Washington Post of course) about a Texas health insurance hotline that is at risk of losing its funding. The Texas Consumer Health Assistance program was funded as a result of federal healthcare reform. The state hired employees to staff a healthcare hotline advising customers on how to find affordable healthcare coverage, help filling out paperwork and fighting denied claims, etc. They also traveled across the State hosting events to inform Texans of their healthcare options. This program is at risk of losing its continued funding — a victim of Congress’s inability to agree on a federal budget. This hotline is also right up Occupy’s alley — empower people with knowledge and help them make good decisions. Can Occup-ants find new volunteers for the hotline? Can they raise awareness of the issue to procure the necessary funding? Can they take that model and replicate it — an informal Consumer Protection network staffed by the 99% for the 99%?
I am by no means against public discourse, peaceful demonstrations and social movements. But I gotta agree with Toby Keith — what we need now is “a little less talk and a lot more action.”