Occupy movement must think big

Protestors should demand fundamental change rather than piecemeal tweaks to the system.

by Eric Murphy

The time for tinkering is over.

Occupy Wall Street and its offshoots have repeatedly been asked what their demands are, and pundits from around the country have offered their own suggestions. These suggestions have almost exclusively been small-ball ideas that, while helpful, would not solve the underlying problem in America.

We can have the technocratic discussions about whether to adopt the Volcker rule or re-instate Glass-Steagall some other time. Now is the time for big thoughts and fundamental change. No one piece of legislation will solve AmericaâÄôs problems; instead, what we require and what the Occupy movement demands is a shift in our basic priorities.

This was the promise of President Barack Obama in 2008. He didnâÄôt campaign on tweaking a system that was already working pretty well for everyone. He and his supporters understood that something was fundamentally wrong in the heart of America.

The âÄúchangeâÄù Obama promised was one of principles more than policy. Here, his 2004 convention speech deserves quoting at length because it explains the crisis of principles and morals we still face at the present moment:

âÄúAlongside our famous individualism, thereâÄôs another ingredient in the American saga, a belief that we are all connected as one people. If thereâÄôs a child on the south side of Chicago who canâÄôt read, that matters to me, even if itâÄôs not my child. If thereâÄôs a senior citizen somewhere who canâÄôt pay for their prescription and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if itâÄôs not my grandparent. It is that fundamental belief âÄî I am my brotherâÄôs keeper, I am my sisterâÄôs keeper âÄî that makes this country work.âÄù

That is the fundamental bond that has been broken in America. That is what the Occupy movements are trying to restore.

It is not enough to ask for specific reforms of the financial system if the common bond between citizens remains broken, if we let people say, âÄúI got mine; youâÄôre on your own.âÄù

Instead, the Occupy movement âÄî here in Minneapolis, on Wall Street and elsewhere âÄî should take as its mission pointing out structural problems that need fixing. For example, the OccupyMN protestors should be asking why the Twin Cities has the highest disparity in unemployment between whites and blacks in the nation. There are many solutions to this problem âÄî instead of picking only a single one, OccupyMN should ask what happened to our stateâÄôs moral compass to allow things to get this way. How did we let one community fall so far behind another?

Nationally, we can ask how the richest nation on earth allows one in six of its citizens to live in poverty without considering it a crisis, or why irresponsible banks who caused the financial crisis of 2008 have their debt taken care of by the government while millions of Americans still languish in theirs.

Asking the Occupy movement for a few specific and relatively minor policy proposals is asking them to pick out a couple of Band-Aids to fix a sickness of the soul. Protestors must think bigger. They must not shy away from imagining and demanding a fundamentally different world where the common bond among all citizens is restored. A financial transactions tax, a higher income tax rate for millionaires, even reinvestment in education is not sufficient.

The demands must be big because the problems are big. They must be fundamental because the problems are fundamental. They must be unified and not separate because the problems are too. And they must be informed by morals and principles because that is now the nature of AmericaâÄôs crisis.