By Stephen Yellin
I have to make a confession to all of you, coming from a longtime diarist here and one who was proud to get Democracy for America's endorsement in my race for local office in New Jersey. It is with some trepidation that I write this, for I know there will be some who will say "What took you so long?" and pooh-pooh the rest of the diary. I also know that publishing this diary may hurt my attempt to work for Democratic candidates in the 2012 cycle.
Yet I must say it. I have a moral obligation to speak out on a movement that I can no longer ignore or pooh-pooh myself.
Ever since Occupy Wall Street got under way, I have been opposed to the method of activism that the 99%-ers are utilizing. No longer. I hope the OWS movement, and you, will let me into the proverbial tent that was literally torn down in New York City yesterday.
The unconscionable attack on and removal of the protesters at Zuccotti Park, and the brutal disregard for human dignity and legal rights that accompanied it, have caused me to fundamentally reconsider my assumptions about our system and the best ways to make it work better.
During the last several years I have increasingly become involved in local and state politics in New Jersey, as well as consulting for Democratic candidates in Congressional races across the country. My political consciousness was shaped as a teenager and college student, as it is for most activists. The lesson I learned from political insiders and power brokers, candidates and colleagues, is that change comes most often when it comes from inside the traditional power structure.
In other words, if I wanted to get liberal/Democratic candidates elected, and if I wanted to see progressive policies enacted, I'd better start licking those envelopes and calling those voters. Otherwise, I would never be able to rise high enough through the ranks to be in a position to make those changes. Like most of us I here I've wanted single-payer health care, economic justice, equal rights for all Americans (not just affluent white males like me), and a government that chooses working people over corporate "people". Heck, I repeatedly used the line "people before profits" as a candidate for Township Council in debates and speeches.
Yet even as my beliefs deepened, so too did my cynicism regarding change from the outside. As a boy, I remember listening to the soundtrack to the musical Les Miserables and thinking "Boy, what a waste. All those students getting killed for no good reason." That thinking has developed for me in recent years into my "Barricade Problem"; namely, that building figurative barricades and fighting the traditional power structure from outside cannot create the change we need. I even wrote a diary here some years ago in which I decried the activist tendency to support building barricades in lieu of building credibility for our cause within the system.
I cannot defend that thinking any longer. I do not hold the same views I did 48 hours ago when it comes to fighting for change outside the power structures of American politics. The police brutality and callous disregard for law and justice that occurred in Zuccotti Park yesterday morning has sent a giant wrecking ball smashing into myproverbial barricade. In my case, it was a barrier against those who know the old order is broken, and that we cannot expect the changes we deserve from the power structure we have.
To those who have supported Occupy Wall Street and its offshoots for over 2 months - you were right. I was wrong.
It is crystal-clear to me now that Mayor Bloomberg and his elitist cohorts, in business and politics alike, couldn't give a damn about the need for major changes in our country. The genuine grievances the OWS movement has - and the anger and despair shared by many, many more in America - have been brutally slapped down by the powers-that-be of the 1%.
To people like Mike Bloomberg, this crisis is a minor hiccup in a steady march towards a new Gilded Age. To people like Mitt Romney, the "real" problem facing our nation is how to squeeze more wealth out of the 99% and give it to the remainder. To Democrats who suck at the corporate teat - and yes, I include some Democrats in my criticism - the people who are part of his movement are an irritating sideshow at best and a dangerous liability to their agenda at worst.
"Survival of the fittest" is meant for beasts, not human beings. Yet far too many of our class of leaders - from the Beltway to the Heartland, from coast to coast - are either actively seeking to impose that doctrine on the rest of us or are enabling that action to take place. Those who would seek to improve the lives of the rest of us from the inside - as I have wanted to do - must either turn to uncontrolled candidates or give up on the inside gambit entirely.
What the occupiers of Zuccotti Park have known all along - and what I didn't until yesterday - was that the crisis cannot be solved just by electing "more and better Democrats" or making a few more phone calls leading up to Election Day. They know that the political system we have is broken, that we cannot expect it it magically fix itself, and that only building the proverbial barricades and organizing from the bottom-up will lead to the changes we all deserve.
It is a hard lesson for me to learn, but seeing Manhattan turn into Cairo or Teheran (circa 2009) has brought that lesson home to me. While I will still support candidates I genuinely believe will fight to make our nation better, based on the principles I listed above, I also pledge to support those who are fighting for our country in their own and, perhaps, better, way.
"Things fall apart, the center cannot hold", the Irish poet Yeats wrote in 1921. He was speaking of the aftermath of World War One, when the traditional order was shattered forever and an age of anxiety rose in its place. We have been losing our hold on the center for decades. We have finally had enough, and are once again rising up to protest the trends that have causes our world to fall apart.
The challenge for us ahead is to ensure that the cause of Occupy Wall Street - of this massive force for change from the outside - does not die in vain like those students in 1832 Paris. I am committed to joining you all in that movement. Please, let me in the tent.
6:01 AM PT: Thank you to all who have recommended this diary - it's now on the recommended list! Please spread the word about it and feel free to cross-post my thoughts to other groups.
8:07 AM PT: Wow! I can't believe I'm at the top of the recommended list. Actually I can - thank you to all who read this and believed it worthy of your approval. It's the first time this has happened for me since July 2004.