By David Rohde
The views expressed are his own.
Update: On Dec. 6th, Occupy protesters began a new tactic of rallying around homeowners trying to resist foreclosures in several cities. Read more here and here. The following column was published on Dec. 1st.
The Occupy movement is flirting with irrelevance. While press reports trumpet the movement’s introduction of the phrase “we are the 99 percent” into the political conversation, the group’s largest encampments have been razed. On Wednesday night, Los Angeles and Philadelphia joined New York, Oakland, Detroit and St. Louis in clearing out its protesters. Small demonstrations continue, but the movement now needs to turn catch-phrases into political change.
This week, Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park was a symbol of the movement’s potential dissolution. On Tuesday afternoon, a dozen Occupy Wall Street protesters held a quiet discussion in one corner of the park. In another, a lone office worker sat at a small, marble table and ate his lunch. Christmas lights glistened on trees that once sheltered protesters. Scores of police blocked anyone with a tent from entering the area.
Generating debate and media coverage are significant achievements, but Occupy’s real test is whether it can convince Reagan Democrats — the working class Americans who began voting Republican in the 1980s — to abandon the Gipper’s progeny.
Despite all the talk of the “99 percent,” the Occupy movement remains light years behind the Tea Party in terms of sparking political change. In a remarkably short period, the Tea Party translated intense media coverage of a small, fervent protest movement into real political power. The Tea Party and other factors shifted the Republican party dramatically to the right in 2010.