[Written in October 2011, less than a month after the Wall Street occupation began, this commentary presents a strategy that still seems the best way forward for the progressive movement and the country. - Ed.]
One Occupy Wall Street (OWS) stalwart has stated, "This is the most important thing in our lifetimes—and it's happening right now!" I can't disagree. I support and have frequented the OWS encampment in New York City since its beginning. I want to see the movement succeed because I support most, if not all of the issues represented there, not least of which is protecting our planet. So I offer this “Restore Democracy Plan,” which came from discussions over many days with other folks at Occupy Wall Street, New York, as the best and perhaps only chance for Occupy to achieve, not only some, but all of its disparate aims.
This plan is based both on youthful idealism and the wisdom gleaned from many years of left-wing half-victories and failures. Its purpose is to avoid the pitfalls of the past and achieve complete success for all of the issues important to us: economic justice, social equality, peace and environmental protection, to name a few. The basic details of this simple four-step program, answers to possible objections and next steps to follow. If and when this Restore Democracy Plan gains momentum, more supporting evidence and information can be added.
The "Restore Democracy Plan" in Brief
- Laser-Focus Our Message
- Declare Victory and Decamp
- Employ Constitutional Jujitsu
- Take Power/Change the World
I will shortly describe each of these steps in detail and how they guarantee victory. But first let me explain the strategy that gave rise to this proposition.
The “Restore Democracy Plan” Strategy
The Left is always more splintered than the Right. You need only walk around the original Occupy Wall Street encampment to see the myriad issues being supported. This is both our strength and our Achilles heel. Yet we cannot afford any weakness or disarray. Why? Because we are battling an enemy that is focused, authoritarian, massively funded, armed to the hilt and utterly lacking in scruples. Yet if we concentrate on a single issue, since we are the vast majority—the 99%—we can’t help but win. This is the basis of the Restore Democracy Plan.
It involves initially focussing on just one issue. But if we do that, won’t supporters of all the other issues feel left out? And if we focus on a single issue, what should that be?
The answer to those questions is simple. The Restore Democracy Plan will focus on:
- An issue that will have the near universal support of all Americans (even, potentially, those in the Tea Party) because it is as American as apple pie and makes common sense (so that it will be difficult for the Right to use their normal tactics of confusing or scaring enough of the 99% to motivate them to oppose it and thus cause us to lose—as often happens).
- An issue that, once won, will almost guarantee our victory on all of the other issues we support because it will even the political playing field, thus giving us the 99-to-1 advantage our numbers indicate we should have in a true democracy.
What that issue is will be disclosed in a moment. But first I want to discuss the seed of the idea for this Restore Democracy Plan strategy and how such a strategy was massively successful in the recent past right here in the USA.
“Proof” the Strategy Can Work
The historical example of using this type of strategy is Prohibition. Don’t be confused by the specifics of the issue (banning alcohol); that has nothing to do with my point. Just look at this historical example in terms of strategy:
The Prohibition movement started as a disjointed effort by Baptist teetotalers who thought the consumption of alcohol was immoral. They ransacked saloons and garnered press coverage here and there for a few years. Then they began to gain support from left-wing social reformers who considered alcohol partially responsible for spousal and child abuse, among other social ills.
This odd alliance, after many years of failing to influence change consistently across jurisdictions, decided to concentrate on one strategy nationally—a constitutional amendment. They pressured all politicians on every level to sign a pledge to support the amendment. Any who did not, they defeated easily at the ballot box since they controlled a huge number of liberal, conservative and independent swing votes in every election. By being a single-issue constituency, they very quickly amassed the 2/3 majorities required in both houses of Congress. And, using the same tactics, within just 17 months, they were successful in getting ¾ of the state legislatures to ratify the constitutional amendment into law. (Other amendments were ratified even faster: Eight—the 7th, 12th, 13th, 15th, 17th, 20th, 21st and 26th—took less than a year. The 26th, granting 18-year-olds the right to vote, took just three months and eight days.)
So what is the amendment the Restore Democracy Plan will push that will have the support of nearly every American and, once passed, give us the power to defeat corporate America on nearly every one of our issues? See Step 1 below.
Details of the “Restore Democracy Plan”
Step 1 – Laser-Focus the Message
Decide that the focus of the Occupy movement will be a restoration of democracy by returning to equal representation (one person one vote), and that this will be accomplished by getting big money out of politics, starting with the passage of a constitutional amendment that states simply:
In reference to this Constitution, and in particular to its Bill of Rights, organizations such as corporations and unions shall not be considered people and money shall not be considered speech.
This will nullify the recent Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling by the US Supreme Court and numerous previous court rulings that have weakened or completely undercut nearly all campaign-finance reform that has been attempted. It may also be important to explicitly state in the amendment that Congress is authorized to set campaign contribution limits. Once in place, this amendment will allow for sweeping campaign-finance restrictions (to end unlimited and anonymous donations) and severely weaken corporate control of our elections.
This is one issue—perhaps the only issue—we can all agree on. And it is the only one I can think of that will truly empower us to accomplish all of the other issues we hold dear. Also, this is the one issue of ours for which we have the support of a supermajority of Americans from all political persuasions.
In February of 2010, ABC News reported on an ABC News/Washington Post poll that found
80 percent of Americans...oppose the [Citizens United] ruling, including 65 percent who “strongly” oppose it, an unusually high intensity of sentiment.
Seventy-two percent, moreover, support the idea of a legislative workaround to try to reinstate the limits the court lifted.
The bipartisan nature of these views is striking in these largely partisan times. The court’s ruling is opposed, respectively, by 76, 81 and 85 percent of Republicans, independents and Democrats; and by 73, 85 and 86 percent of conservatives, moderates and liberals. Majorities in all these groups, ranging from 58 to 73 percent, not only oppose the ruling but feel strongly about it.
Even among people who agree at least somewhat with the Tea Party movement, which advocates less government regulation, 73 percent oppose the high court’s rejection of this particular law. Among the subset who agree strongly with the Tea Party’s positions on the issues – 14 percent of all adults – fewer but still most, 56 percent, oppose the high court in this case.
Plus, by Occupy focusing on this one issue, it will make it virtually impossible for the corporate media to continue claiming that our aims are indecipherable; obfuscating and trivializing our positions; and misrepresenting us.
Step 2 – Declare Victory and Decamp
Declare that the occupation was successful in that we came together, focused our vision and decided on a strategy. That strategy is to “Restore Democracy” through the passage of the proposed constitutional amendment; and that this is a victory-in-the-making for the movement as it will put an end to the present plutocracy and finally restore one person, one vote. Then vacate all Occupy encampments across the US (after cleaning them, replanting flowers, etc.). Thus, as a group we will focus all of our energy on passing this amendment—using the strategy the Prohibitionists used to defeat any and every politician who opposes it. And imagine the positive impression we will leave in the minds of those who are on the fence in terms of supporting us!
Staying encamped would dilute both our energy and message—and it and may be counterproductive should there be a major confrontation with the authorities; they are expert at leveraging physical confrontations to spread fear and scare the masses away from judging our opinions and proposals rationally.
(Let me note here that I've found overwhelming and strong support for this plan from the folks at the New York Occupy encampment with one exception: There is a split about whether we should decamp. I do not think that, if we decide to stay, it will be fatal to the core strategy of this proposal—just a distraction and a diversion of our energies. However, I strongly believe that, for the reasons mentioned above, it will greatly benefit us to leave. Even if we stay, however, we should adopt the balance of this plan of action as soon as possible.)
Step 3 – Employ Constitutional Jujitsu
Ask all candidates for office to sign a pledge to support our “Restore Democracy” constitutional amendment that will take big money out of politics. Defeat all who refuse. Once we have enough pro-amendment politicians in both houses of Congress, they will pass the amendment by the 2/3 majorities required. Then we will repeat this strategy in the legislatures of ¾ of the states, the number the Constitution stipulates for the ratification of an amendment.
Step 4 – Take Power/Change the World
Once our constitutional amendment is ratified by ¾ of the states, ask all candidates for office to sign a pledge to support campaign-finance reform (e.g., individual contribution limits, full transparency, free air time and shorter, publicly funded campaigns) and election reform (instant runoff aka ranked choice voting that will help smaller parties win elections, ending our current two-party dictatorship; instant voter registration; more early voting and absentee ballot options, voting on Saturdays and Sundays, or for an entire week or on a day designated as a national holiday to make it more convenient for working people to vote; laws against gerrymandering; and replacing the Electoral College with direct election of the president). Defeat any who refuse. Once campaign finance and election reforms are in place, the playing field will be level and candidates with corporate support will lose to candidates with grassroots support, who will then pass the laws we want—ecological protection, pro-peace, racial justice, universal healthcare, a living wage and (your favorite issue here).
As democracy is restored and our pet issues become law, our political system will become more and more representative. And this will become a self-perpetuating cycle. For example, once we improve our schools (offering everyone free childcare and a free college education, for example) and folks no longer live in poverty, the electorate will be more educated, with more time to concentrate on politics. They will then better understand and vote their class interests, thus electing more left-wing candidates. Society will become more progressive until corporate-controlled parties like the Republicans will be seen as the extreme fringe group they are. Democrats will be considered the conservative party they mostly are. The Green party will be considered centrist and far-left parties will elect candidates and have their ideas seriously considered and sometimes adopted.
Since the US is so powerful, these changes in America will affect the entire world. Not only will we finally be a true "beacon of democracy," but we will no longer support dictatorships and wage wars around the world to support corporate interests, to cite just two examples.
Answers to Possible Objections
- The Restore Democracy Plan will take too long. I want revolution now! – There is no shortcut to real, sustainable social change; it takes hard, grassroots work to educate people and change social conditions so that progress is not easily rolled back. If we try a frontal assault, not only will we likely fail, but we may give those in power an excuse to end even more of our civil liberties so that a stratagem like we are proposing might never again be possible. That said, the amendment will be relatively easy to pass using the Prohibition amendment as a model. It, too, consisted of a left/center/right coalition. As noted above, it took them only 17 months to make the amendment law and many other amendments took much less time.
- But the “Restore Democracy” amendment would also prohibit labor unions from making unlimited campaign contributions. This is counterproductive to our interests – I strongly support labor unions. I come from a family of union members. My father; both grandfathers (one a local union leader); one grandmother; and several uncles, great uncles and cousins were all union steelworkers. But, truth be told, many unions are decidedly conservative. And even if they were not, it is best to deny all organizations the right to make unlimited contributions when allowing them to do so is at the expense of the individual’s right to democratic elections. In any case, it makes our effort nonpartisan, guaranteeing support from across the political spectrum, which will hasten our victory.
- If we spend all our resources passing the “Restore Democracy” amendment, other issues will fall by the wayside (e.g., more species will be lost, more people killed in war, etc.). – The fact is that we are losing on all fronts now. We haven’t even been able to stop our two overt wars, let alone hundreds of covert ones, because our “leaders” are beholden to those who control the money they need to be elected. We must get big money out of politics first. This will create a more fair playing field and allow us to then elect progressives beholden to the people. They will then do the bidding of the people instead of the corporations.
- If we leave the encampments without substantial victory, it will look like we lost. – I’m sure you’ve heard the story of the Trojan horse: The Greeks had tried for a decade to penetrate and defeat the city-state of Troy, their enemy. After a string of military failures, the Greek army devised a clever scheme. They constructed a large wooden horse, hid several soldiers inside, wheeled it up to the city wall and pretended to sail away. The Trojans, thinking they had won, pulled the horse into their fortress city as a trophy. That night the Greek soldiers snuck out of the horse and opened the city gates for the rest of the Greek army, which had sailed back under cover of night. The Greeks won a decisive victory over Troy, ending the war.
Our choices are to stay put at Occupy encampments across the country and “stick it to the man” now (making him mildly uncomfortable and perhaps playing into his hands) or to decamp, go door to door across the country and do the hard work of building a movement to cut off “the man’s” air supply—unlimited campaign spending that literally buys politicians—forever into the future, and then fight him in his weakened state on all of our issues, virtually guaranteeing that we will win each and every one! So let’s leave. Let’s let Wall Street think they’ve won. Who cares what they think. Soon enough, total victory will be ours.
This is the way I see things proceeding:
- We all spread the word about the Restore Democracy Plan.
- OWS General Assembly (its decision-making body) and its counterparts around the country agree on the Restore Democracy Plan.
- Occupy makes a victory statement to the press.
- All Occupy sites decamp with the possible exception of an information presence at OWS, New York City.
- OWS and all other Occupies organize a constitutional amendment campaign—contact groups already involved in such an undertaking, get all left-leaning groups and parties to sign onto the effort, reach out to nonpartisan and right-leaning entities like the Tea Party and Libertarians for their support, etc.
- Occupy and its allies continue to refine and implement the ideas and strategies noted herein to take back and transform our country and world.
We have an uphill battle within the Occupy movement. On the ground at Zuccotti Park, there are almost as many opinions about what issues/demands we should champion as there are people. If Occupy starts staking out positions, regardless of how “correct,” each one will give a few more Americans an excuse to not support us. We need an initial cause that will have a strong consensus among nearly all Americans, without muddying the waters with hundreds of disparate issues. Also, we don’t need to make demands. We are not children. It may not be as romantic as ‘Revolution Now!” but we should do the adult thing and organize on one issue at a time—each a building block to where we want to go—using a proven strategy as outlined in this piece.
Here’s to the beautiful future we are in the process of creating.