They Wouldn't Occupy if They Had the Votes

Written by Chris Ladd on Tuesday October 18, 2011

If the Occupy Wall Street protestors represent ‘the 99%’ then why don’t they already dominate our government?

Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street protests should create some concern. These are not the products of healthy politics.

The tagline of the OWS protest sheds some light on where these kinds of movements really come from and why they struggle to accomplish anything useful. OWS calls itself ‘the 99%’ in reference to the concentration of wealth in this country. Yet, if the OWS protesters genuinely represent the 99%, why aren’t they in office instead of sleeping in a park?

The Occupy Wall Street protestors point to the Arab Spring as an inspiration, but there’s a crucial problem with that analogy. You can’t create a ‘Tahrir Square’ moment in a broadly representative democracy. We already have what the Egyptians were fighting for. Something else is happening here.

In our system of government such mass events tend to cut in the opposite direction, as a reaction against the will of the people. When you see thousands of people gather in a grand protest in America they are doing it because they don’t represent very many voters. If they did, they would just vote.

The actual direction of OWS was laid out rather coldly by a former Alan Grayson staffer who is working with the movement. He claimed in his op-ed for Politico that citizens are “exercising power outside of the ballot box” and he explained why:

Many of them saw an uprising in Madison, Wis., over Gov. Scott Walker’s collective-bargaining and privatization initiatives; and they understand the choice to initiate recall elections rather than strikes resulted in a crushing loss for workers.

They saw that the electorate is solidly against them. Now they are shopping for alternatives to the democratic process.

America’s last great wave of mass protest was the anti-war movement of the ‘60’s. When you look beneath the haze of marijuana and tear gas you can see what that movement gave America – the Nixon Administration. Both OWS and the Tea Party should take that as a sober warning. Over the long term, Americans who actually vote are relatively hostile to the costumed and/or unwashed mobs that take to the streets to lengthen their commute and tell them what to think.

It seems as though the reasonable American center took the fall of the Berlin Wall as their cue to tune out. We won the great war of political ideas. There was nothing left for politics but the drudgery of administration. Now our political sphere has descended into entertainment, degraded by the antics of cartoon characters.

The message of both movements can be boiled down to this sentiment – Running a superpower is haaaard. We want to be it easier. We want a political system that has less reading and more parties. Not political parties, but the fun kind. Send pizzas to Zuccotti Park and we’ll figure it all out at some point.

Our political system channels the public will into the political process through elections. We may not like the direction America has taken over the past decade, but we can’t hide behind supposed villains like the Koch brothers or the Federal Reserve. Any of us who wants to see the dark forces driving America need only borrow a mirror.