The Occupy Wall Street movement is on the cusp right now; the evictions from Zuccotti Park and other locations around the country was the first shot across the bow indicating that convergence on a common message was imperative to the movement’s continued survival. As the country descends into campaign mode and politicians from all sides begin to rev the rhetoric-engine, OWS sits in an increasingly precarious position. If it falls one way and becomes fodder for stump speeches used to pump up both liberal and conservative bases with over-zealous endorsement or condemnation, OWS will quickly lose credibility and relevance. Elizabeth Warren is starting to invoke the accountability sentiment for her Senate campaign, but she risks transforming legitimate concerns into another over-simplified divisive wedge issue used to capture votes. From the other extreme politicians and others are dismissing these protestors as jobless and uninformed. Political abuse of the cause will castrate the OWS movement and destroy its ability to create any real change; it will fade out with time and end up as a footnote in books on history and political theory as a moment of lost opportunity.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Occupy Wall Street has been successful by tapping into a collective feeling currently shared by nearly all Americans. This feeling is something very real, visceral, and painful. It provides much of the rage fueling OWS, the Tea Party, and those who are too disenfranchised to pick a side. President Obama describes it as “The Broken Bargain,” but it’s more than that.
It’s a broken bargain combined with a perceived inability to do anything about it.
At the core of the American psyche is an independent self-starter, an entrepreneur, a pioneer who makes his own path. Following the biggest economic calamity in recent history and nauseatingly low employment people feel like that they’ve lost their grip on the reins; no matter what they do, it won’t make a difference. This is where the power of OWS and similar movements comes from. The question is, what do we do with that power?
Naturally, this rage has found convenient places to reside. The wealthy. Large corporations. Wall Street firms. But falling into these broad categories is too easy, too inaccurate, and too divisive. With few exceptions the anger, fear, and frustration caused by the current state of affairs is common experience. From the 1% to the 99% we need to realize that we’re all Americans invested in improvement. Evidence of this has started to bubble up:Wall Street insiders supporting ‘Occupy’ sentiments, former protestors taking jobs at investment firms, and the Alternative Banking Group looking to reform from the inside. Bitter campaign rhetoric doesn’t help. Using OWS, or the Tea Party, or terms like hippie and fat cat to split opinion and pit American against American won’t solve problems, create jobs, and return us to prosperity. Extreme rhetoric can snowball into extreme actions such as the recent port blockages; they may be disruptive to big corporations, but they are also disruptive to everyday workers. Most people just want progress, growth and jobs. In the distinctly American tradition of WWII mobilization or the Apollo Program we need to come together collectively and work toward a singular grand goal.
That goal is to bring about a renaissance of mid-market and small businesses in the United States and usher them into global competiveness. There’s enormous consensus that these are the companies that will pave the way for economic growth, create new jobs, and lead us out of the recession. And much like mobilizing for a World War or putting a man on the moon, it will take Americans from all walks to succeed. From visionary entrepreneurs, to operationally focused middle managers, to factory workers, a task of this magnitude requires a collective effort. This also includes the considerable resources and skills provided by our economic lubricant: Wall Street and the finance machine that has enabled the rise of American competitiveness over the last 50 years.
It’s time to define this goal and Challenge Wall Street to deliver. Despite some recent missteps, the sophistication of our financial system’s ability to match those who have capital to those who need it is unmatched. Wall Street innovations that have created the ability to aggregate, shuffle, and repackage risk can increase liquidity and promote growth. Occupy Wall Street’s real message is to call upon, to challenge this system of finance to provide the mid-market and small businesses the capital they need to create jobs and bring the United States back to economic greatness. Wall Street has the ability to be part of a solution and we need to challenge them step up and prove it.