Will Occupy Wall Street affect America’s politics?

October 13, 2011

Occupy Wall Street 1On September 17, 2011, the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement began in New York City with a relatively modest 1,000 people.

As of this week, the movement has grown to over 15,000 people, and spread to many cities across the country and around the world.

What does OWS want?

As critics are exceedingly quick to point out, the movement has not produced a list of demands or goals that, when met, signal the end of the movement.

As supporters respond, though, OWS isn’t intended to be a traditional movement with a definite beginning and end.

OWS itself claims to have been inspired by the Arab Spring, the popular protests across the Middle East that started earlier this year, and that link may offer some explanation on the issue.

Did the Middle Eastern protests have a laundry list of grievances?

No.  They were protesting against their form of government and governance themselves.

Sound anything like another U.S. political movement that arose two years earlier? (Hint: it’s the Tea Party).

If you get your information from some media outlets – such as Fox News – OWS and the Tea Party are anything but similar.

For example, Fox News commentators have referred to the former as “deluded” and “sludge” and have otherwise attempted to depict participants in a negative light, whereas just two years earlier, Fox News aggressively covered the Tea Party movement in a very positive, almost advocative light.

Occupy Wall Street 2Regardless of the disparity in coverage by the media, the two movements are similar in that both are rallies born out of frustration with the status quo.

Where the Tea Party protests “out-of-control” government, OWS protests “out-of-control” corporations.

But back to the Arab Spring connections, what do Wall Street and Corporations have to do with government?

Everything, according to participants.

Specifically, they are protesting against the amount of influence corporations and Wall Street have in Washington.

That brings up one of the most pertinent questions.

Will OWS have a lasting impact on the political system?

The Tea Party and widespread coverage thereof can be credited with significantly affecting the 2010 elections, with many new members of Congress linked to the movement.

In addition, in July 2010, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann launched (and currently chairs) the congressional Tea Party Caucus, also linked directly to the movement.

So if the Tea Party can do it, can OWS?

That’s probably where the comparison diverges a bit.

Even before the Tea Party movement really started, there were plenty of small-government, anti-tax, and de-regulation advocates in Congress (the Tea Party just provided more).

Anti-corporate/anti-Wall Street advocates that would be directly bolstered by the OWS movement are much scarcer, thanks in no small part to how much political contributions collectively originate from corporations and Wall Street.

Nevertheless, the United States is still theoretically a democracy, and numbers still matter.

As such, OWS’s political influence, particularly in regards to the 2012 elections, will hinge on the growth and success of the movement.

Should the movement continue its meteoric growth and avoid fizzling out, it certainly will have a major political impact.

Because the movement is still in its relative infancy, though, just what kind of impact OWS will have remains to be seen.