What’s Next for the Occupiers?

CAP's Faiz Shakir and Occupy DC's Ali Savino Speculate at Progressivism on Tap

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Faiz Shakir, Editor-in-Chief of Think Progress and creator of an online forum tracking developments in the "99 Percent Movement," and Ali Savino, active member of Occupy DC’s media and facilitation working groups, shed some light on the ongoing Occupy Wall Street protests on November 3 at Busboys and Poets in Washington, D.C. Though they spoke from different vantage points, both panelists stressed the moral dimensions of the Occupy protests around the country.

Shakir reflected on the stunning momentum of what started as a small protest against Wall Street in New York in September. Naming the summer debate over the national debt and Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) proposal to privatize Medicare as “galvanizing” forces on an increasingly struggling and unemployed population, Shakir said the result was an emotional outburst that became a moral outcry across the country.

Savino then traced the internal developments of the Occupy protests, from the first New York general assembly of 3,000 protesters (a “logistical nightmare”) to the decentralized, consensus-based processes each city’s camp now employs.

“Every occupation is different,” said Savino, though the Occupy sites all struggle with the same concerns–from supporting the overnight protesters to planning for the winter to achieving collective action while remaining nimble and responsive to local developments.

Both Shakir and Savino acknowledged that while the tactics of Occupy Wall Street have been enormously successful, to date a clear strategy has yet to emerge.

What the 99 Percent Is Fighting

Savino highlighted some of the tensions at work. The leaderless organization, for example, with ample messages but no unified goal, has baffled media headlines and political strategists alike. In Washington, D.C. and New York, the Occupy tent sites developed into alternative communities, with food lines, health clinics, and "public libraries," even while many in both cities still do not understand what the protesters want.

So what comes next for Occupiers?

Savino and Shakir agreed that the movement has a broad appeal that will likely continue. According to Savino, “This is where everyone who is disillusioned with Obama has gone. In 2008, we were active, engaged, we wanted to see change, and we didn’t get any.”

They also agreed that the leaderless dimension that remains frustrating from a political strategy standpoint may in fact be an asset. Without one "face" to the movement it will be harder to undercut credibility.

Most significantly, both panelists agreed that the movement’s biggest value may be to act as the morally galvanizing voice for politicians to seriously address income inequality.

But wherever the Occupy movement goes from here, Shakir said, it has already been tremendously significant in restoring a moral dimension to our national conversation. A year from now, he concluded, “one goal is to see Occupy Wall Street be the lobby against anything morally outrageous.”

Read about more events in the Progressivism on Tap series.