Populist movements can be incredibly effective to change a particular course of action, but there are certain requirements that must be in place to achieve success. In twentieth century America, several populist movements achieved their goals because they were well-organized and sought to undo injustice whether it was equal rights for African Americans, women, or the right of labor to organize. Already in the 21st Century, there have been movements that tapped into popular sentiment and with proper backing and motivation, one changed an election for the worst and the other has yet to effect any changes.
After Barack Obama was elected and sworn in as President, a consortium of wealthy industrialists funded the tea party and, along with Fox News, they incited racist hatred for the first African American president into an electoral movement that swept into power and the country will feel the effects for years to come. Although there was Koch money and Fox News co-opting the teabag phenomena, the people were driven by racial hatred and unfounded fears that Obama was a foreign-born Socialist intent on destroying the fabric of America and the message is oft-repeated by Republican presidential hopefuls in debates and stump speeches. The point about the tea party is that it was never a mainstream movement, but they were organized and driven to take over the government and they were successful in shifting control in the House of Representatives.
The Occupy movement is an authentic populist movement that transcends national borders, and their demonstrations and rallies certainly outnumber anything teabaggers attempted. However, there is an organizational void that gives the illusion that occupiers are without ascertainable goals and wandering aimlessly in the wilderness. The movement’s leaders enumerated their complaints very effectively, but it remains to be seen if the energy and commitment will bear fruit in the upcoming general election. It is one thing to amass thousands of protestors to voice opposition to corporate control of the government, but without implementation of specific electoral goals, Occupy will fade and be forgotten within a year. In the past week, there was a model for the Occupy movement to aspire to and it portends the power and influence a populist movement holds when outrage, organization, and drive are put to good use.
Contrasting the Occupy movement to the movement to send Komen for the Cure Foundation a message that withdrawing funding of Planned Parenthood breast cancer screening was wrong, it is easy to see why, in just three days, Komen reversed course and reinstated funding for Planned Parenthood; if only for one year. Neither the Occupy or anti-Komen movement had backing from main-stream media, or incredible sums of money to mobilize concerned citizens to take action. What the anti-Komen movement did have was one clear goal, and thousands of passionate Americans taking action because they knew the goal and how to pressure the Komen Foundation because they were organized.
The anti-Komen activists knew who to call, send emails to, and how to send monetary support to Planned Parenthood and it is all down to a few concerned citizens who made lists and recruited like-minded Americans to apply pressure on the Komen Foundation. However, it was a single goal that was most certainly the overriding factor in successfully pressuring Komen to reverse their decision. The tea party activists knew their only goal was defeating Democrats in 2010, and they were so laser-focused on that task, that when organizers provided them with the tools to win local elections, their passion carried the day and America is suffering their ascendance to legislative control of the House and inroads into the Senate.
The message for the Occupy movement is clear; get some focus and identify legislators who support corporatism, mobilize electoral opposition, and reclaim democratic government. Assembling a million people in New York or Los Angeles may look good on social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook, but unless those millions cast votes against Republicans who support the 1% over the welfare of the rest of the country, then they have wasted their time and energy. The Occupy movement lacks funding and media support the teabaggers enjoyed, but polls show Americans overwhelmingly agree the wealthy elite have amassed too much power and control over the government and are slowly wiping out the middle class and adding millions to the ranks of poverty. If Occupy’s millions of supporters mobilized into an anti-corporate electoral movement, Republicans would face epic losses in 2012.
The Democratic Party is organized and identified House and Senate candidates that are the worst offenders at assailing 99% of the population, so the lion’s share of organization is already in place. If the anti-Komen movement was able to pressure a wildly popular national organization to reverse a policy in three short days, imagine what millions of Occupiers could accomplish over the next ten months. There is a well-armed organization with all the tools necessary to change America’s course for a decade, and there are millions of Americans who are weary of the 1% dominating the rest of the country, but until they join forces, there is little hope for change. If Occupy does not adopt an anti-corporate electoral strategy, in 2013 when they attempt to camp out in public squares, a Republican president will mobilize the National Guard to make mass arrests.