Occupy Wall Street needs specifics

The hippies are coming, the hippies are coming … to Colorado. Or maybe I should use another word. Activists? Malcontents? Or as Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said last week, “mob”?

The Occupy Wall Street movement caught my attention because I want smart progressive ideas to gain momentum and enter policy debates. With establishment Democrats, including our president, currently banging their heads against Republican (stone) walls, could OWS break through? And if so, could it advance positions I care about?

In a steady downpour this past Saturday, I drove down Interstate 25 to try to find out for myself.

The Denver OWS contingent has been busy, marching through downtown Denver to the Federal Reserve branch and occupying a semi-legal encampment in the park adjacent to the Colorado State Capitol. The first Fort Collins gathering took place Monday. I visited the intersection of Maple and College to witness firsthand the small but passionate group.

Whether you agree with OWS or not, you have to be impressed by their momentum. Inspired by the popular groundswell uprising in Egypt, OWS started in New York’s financial district last month. Now these “occupations” have popped up nationwide.

OWS has been referred to as the liberal response to the tea party. But the tea party has something OWS doesn’t have: a relatively clear message.

Granted, tea party spokespeople roam like cattle, and on matters like social issues, the tea’s are downright fractured. But they come together on how much they hate taxes. It’s a terribly myopic viewpoint, but at least they’ve sharpened the point of their arrow.

One of the organizers of Occupy Fort Collins, Dan Michniewicz, said to the Coloradoan prior to the Monday event, “We will be basically creating an open forum for the discussion of ideas. … We want to refrain from making any set-in-stone commitments.”

And so far, that’s the problem with OWS. The group is quick to complain, but slow to put the action into dissatisfaction.

I’ve got an idea: counterbalance the tea party with proposals.

It’s needed. As we face our crippling national debt, the tea party’s intransigence against taxation panics politicians and removes balance and rationality from discussions about solutions. Republicans blame our economic problems on too much business regulation, while OWS appears to be saying the culprit is too little regulation.

OWS needs to be specific. I detect three themes on their hand-painted signs: renegade banks, the evils of corporate money influencing politicians and the gap between the rich (“1 percent”) and everyone else (“99 percent”).

So go one step further, perhaps by supporting greater bank oversight (which regulations?), campaign-finance reform (whose plan?), and Obama’s attempt to increase taxes on the richest 1 percent (by how much?).

Such clarification will prevent critics from turning OWS ambiguity into doomsday scenarios. Does OWS want to shut down banks, dismantle the free enterprise system and unleash anarchy in the streets? Of course not, but they’d better clarify because savvy conservatives will follow Cantor’s lead and spread similar FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt).

Here’s another suggestion: Decide priorities and take lower-ranking complaints off the protest banners. OWS concerns include Afghanistan, Palestine and more, all of which are important issues. But for the immediate, these dilute the main messages. If OWS becomes a soapbox for any liberal with a gripe, it will fail.

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