Occupy is a Policy Window for Strategic Leaders

By Danny Yost

I challenge the notion that the Occupy Movement needs to express specific demands to be effective. Strategic political leaders should seize this opportunity to change the system instead of fighting the movement. Over the course of my time in Congress this summer, the most effective lobbyists presented direct demands and engaged staff over bill language, but the system lacked the heat from a movement to move bills forward. Movements do not push specific bill language; they provide the legitimacy for the technocrats to engage in their work. Movements provide support by boiling over and rising hot steam to the top of our society. And in order for that top to take notice and be effective, movements have to apply a lot of heat so that staff act in the interest of the movement. A lukewarm movement can be dismissed, arrested, and sent home along with the staff who write policy.

Our elected leaders have the bully pulpit at their disposal to redirect the intense heat of the people towards change. Yet, those leaders who arguably aim to stand with the 99% have instead redirected the heat towards their own power base through batons and violent evictions. The people just want the system to stop and reflect on what it’s produced–incredible measures of inequality and sustained destruction of the middle class in this country. Let the steam continue to billow and gain momentum for it provides the intense pressure that can open policy windows.

And instead of channeling heat towards its own people, our leaders should take this opportunity to redirect the steam rising from the boiling pots that are our public squares towards our legislative bodies who have the formal authority to make real changes in taxation and spending and in authorizing police. Our leaders should point to the boiling pots in our communities and make specific demands that would make the pots simmer. For starters, they could demand real living wages and equal opportunity. These are the foundations of our democracy and the American Dream. By making specific demands with the heat of change at their backs, our elected leaders have the opportunity to simultaneously enact better policies and build alliances with constituents. That’s what I call smart politics.