A Charter for the 99 Percent

After November 6, 2012, the big sound rippling around the world was not a chorus of bipartisanship, not a whoop of euphoria, but a collective sigh of relief. Still, it must not be forgotten that nearly half of America’s voters were sulking. The party that represents them with retrograde doctrine skulks and schemes to tie President Barack Obama up in knots. Thanks to gerrymandering, it controls the House. Thanks to its bulldozer strategy of automatic filibusters, it will obstruct a Senate majority if it can. The battles over plutocracy and government will continue.

Now, the next phase of a 99 percent movement needs to get—and keep—busy. Why do I say “next phase”? Because the Occupy movement that came about in 2011 has, for now, most likely accomplished close to its maximum, given its style of organization. In effect, whatever its evenhanded contempt for conventional politics, Occupy did great good work for Obama and the progressive cause. Not least, the movement had the effect of encouraging Obama to run a head-on campaign against a vulture capitalist. Whether he follows through depends not only on his resolve and acumen but on the wind at his back.

Now much of the initiative may pass to the outer movement, that much larger penumbra of Occupy’s supporters in unions and membership organizations who turned out for the large demonstrations and, in fits and starts, jolted much of the country to its senses. Even though the Occupy core took it as a point of principle to disdain specific demands, they actually didn’t need demands in 2011 to focus the sluggish public mind on vicious inequalities and a botched political system. And demandlessness paid an unintended dividend: Occupy saved itself some bitter fights over what any hypothetical slate of demands should look like. The movement, at its best, was inclusive enough to become a center of energy, and to change what we are pleased to call the national conversation. Now what?

There must be a persistent, independent movement capable of winning tangible political-economic reforms—reforms that change lives and encourage newcomers to join.

With Obama back in a place where he can be pushed, let the push proceed—smarter, more accelerated, more cogent. There must be a rebuilding, and it must go deep. There must be a persistent, independent movement capable of winning tangible political-economic reforms—reforms that change lives and encourage newcomers to join. A focused common program for the long haul—a decade, say—would make sense to millions who know that plutocracy threatens decent livelihoods, shared growth, and a sustainable planet. However short of the millennium, a specific program would be a magnet and a beacon. We need a reconfiguration powered by people of many sorts and networks and organizations of many sorts, cohering around a reform program that is at once ambitious, urgent, and achievable.

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