How Occupy Wall Street Works

Can Occupy Wall Street Succeed?
Protesters occupy in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol.
Protesters occupy in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

As Tea Party members and Occupy supporters duke it out in the blogosphere, the Washington, D.C. response to the movement has gradually become more accepting [source: Liasson]. While Republican Congress members don't align with Occupy Wall Street, some conservative politicians acknowledge that income inequality in the United States is a valid issue that demands government attention. In a nod to the Occupy movement, Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) introduced the Targeted Wall Street Trading Tax bill in Congress in early November 2011; if passed, it would impose a tax on certain risky mortgage-market-related investments, such as credit default swaps [source: McAuliff and Rosenthal].

But in the long run, how much do Occupy Wall Street mentions in Congressional and presidential press conferences matter? Unlike the Tunisian and Egyptian protests focused on booting dictatorial rulers from power (Presidents Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak, respectively), the Occupy Wall Street measure of success isn't so apparent. Some activists think that preventing Barack Obama from winning re-election in 2012 would send the appropriate message to the government that it needs to bridge income disparities [source: Rutkoff]. Others support the original Occupy Wall Street Adbuster blog post's call for a Presidential Commission to address corporate influence on the government [source: Adbusters]. More than a specific, actionable end goal, Occupy Wall Street seeks populist-oriented social change, which it has resisted articulating in terms that are too restrictive. For that reason, what success means for the movement is, in short, an ongoing, ever-evolving, conversation [source: NPR].

In a way, Occupy Wall Street already has succeeded in terms of inserting itself into the Washington dialogue and holding politicians accountable to their demands for rectifying income inequality. Whether the scattered encampments will spawn a mainstream populist movement that inspires legislative change to divorce federal government from Wall Street influence remains to be seen. In the meantime, some feel the protest could learn a lesson from the Tea Party. Polls indicate that the Tea Party's popularity has declined over time, which means that the window of opportunity for influencing politics can be narrow, and if Occupy Wall Street fails to seize its moment, the potential power of the 99 Percent might twinkle out.

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