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Occupy elections, with a simple message

George Lakoff, professor emeritus of linguistics | December 1, 2011

What’s next? That’s the question being asked as cities close down Occupy encampments and winter approaches.

The answer is simple. Just as the Tea Party gained power, the Occupy Movement can. The Occupy movement has raised awareness of a great many of America’s real issues and has organized supporters across the country. Next comes electoral power. Wall Street exerts its force through the money that buys elections and elected officials. But ultimately, the outcome of elections depends on people willing to take to the streets — registering voters, knocking on doors, distributing information, speaking in local venues. The way to change the nation is to occupy elections.

Whatever Occupiers may think of the Democrats, they can gain power within the Democratic Party and hence in election contests all over America. All they have to do is join Democratic Clubs, stick to their values, speak out very loudly, and work in campaigns for candidates at every level who agree with their values. If Occupiers can run tent camps, organize food kitchens and clean-up brigades, run general assemblies, and use social media, they can take over and run a significant part of the Democratic Party.

To what end?  All the hundreds of the occupiers’ legitimate complaints and important policy suggestions follow from a simple general moral principle: American democracy is about citizens caring about one another and acting responsibly on that care.

The idea is simple but a lot follows from it:  a government that protects and empowers everyone equally, a government of the Public — public roads and buildings, school and universities, research and innovation, public health and health care, safety nets, access to justice in the courts, enforcement of worker rights, and practical necessities like sewers, power grids, clean air and water, public safety including safe food, drugs, and other products, public parks and recreational facilities, public oversight of the economy — fiscal and trade policy, banking, the stock market —  and especially the preservation of nature in the interest of all.

The Public has been what has made Americans free — and has underwritten American wealth. No one makes it on his or her own. Private success depends on a robust Public.

The rationale for the Occupy movement is that all of this has been under successful attack by the right wing, which has an opposing principle, that democracy is about citizens only taking care of themselves, about personal and not social responsibility.  According to right-wing morality, the successful are by definition the moral; the one percent are taken to be the most moral. The country and the world should be ruled by such a “moral” hierarchy.  Except for national security, the Public should disappear through lack of funding.  The nation and the world should be ruled for private profit alone — and by force.

That idea is what is destroying American democracy, and America with it. That idea is what is behind everything the Occupy Movement opposes — and everything that is going wrong with America today.

Not only is America divided between two opposing principles, but a great many individuals are of those two minds at once: progressive on some matters, conservative on others — with all sorts of variations. They are called variously independents, moderates, or the center. They are mostly the population that elections depend on. They have not one fundamental principle, but are split between two.

What makes one of these ascendant in the individual brain is the language one hears most. That is why the domination of public discourse is so important. It is why advertising in the media is important, why talk radio and TV and social media matter. Elections are what focus attention on public discourse. That is why the next step for the Occupy Movement should be to occupy elections.

The way to begin any discussion should be: Do you care about your fellow citizens? If so, do you take responsibility to act on that care?

The next question is: Do you realize how much every American, no matter how rich or poor, depends upon The Public?

Only when those questions are answered can detailed policy questions make sense.

Those are the questions that should be dominating our public discourse. They are the implicit questions asked by the Occupy movement. It is time to make them explicit, and to do so where it counts: in occupying elections.

Comments to “Occupy elections, with a simple message

  1. The Occupy Movement’s demands are no less than those of a just society as outlined by John Rawls in ‘JUSTICE AS FAIRNESS’. Bravo for your courage and tenacity…

  2. This article is just an elementary primer for collectivism. Every time the working people turn the power over to collectivists, the collectivists give themselves all the money and the power. This is why the administrators give themselves huge undeserved raises at the same time the university is cutting classes and raising tuition for students.

    We work for our money. We are sick of the abuse. Show a little respect for the people who pay.

    The only thing the university did that was smart was evict the Occupy derelicts. I hope the collectivists base their next political campaign on the intellectual foundation of the Occupy movement.

    I predict the people of California will privatize the University of California. Sell the property and buildings to pay off the debt Jerry Brown has put us into.

  3. the game has been rigged for a long time, and the 99% are tired of being left out. i fully support Occupy…what the Tea Bagger party is to dumb easy to manipulate “middle” class americans, Occupy is to free thinking, secular progressives…keep fighting the dinosaurs, folks!!!

    • tanis your leftist democrat party caused this meltdown.Remember FANNIE @ FREDDIE and everyone must have a house even though most COULD NEVER PAY IT BACK!!!

  4. This article seems like it is the logical next step for the Occupy Movement. Otherwise, what was it all about? This next step will give the movement meaning and an opportunity to create a lasting effect.

  5. I can’t fathom why the Occupy people have dragged photo-ready dramatics of the ’60’s out of the museum when serious people in the Middle East are knocking over powers who refuse to explain themselves with networked cell-phones. Artful anarchy is hardly convincing when the entire effect depends upon the cameras from Infotainment. A social-networking strategy would be much more effective, much more up-to-date, and frankly a lot more fun; and it wouldn’t require making the police out to be hapless baddie bully robots.

    Here’s a no-brainer idea right off the top of my head: Make a list of the most proud-to-be-degenerate special interests who use their private means (without shareholder approval) to obstruct government action (Often high-stakes supports of the the Chamber of Commerce, and cross-referenced with the Cato Institute) (2) Advertise a Tweet with a letter of the alphabet at a given hour every week signaling a nation wide 12 daylight-hour boycott of all products and services connected with the establishment whose name has that letter in the first five letters of its name. Math people could come up with something much better. The letter changes each week, like day-of-the-week underware! The point being to show that public patience has limits.

    This is a wedge strategy. It’s hard to get directly at Wall Street, so wean them of their friends by telling them to decide who their friends are. And, for 12 hours each week, the nation can enjoy a collective party. I suppose you think I must be joking?

  6. Part of the problem is the Calvinist background in the US that says wealth in this world is a sign of approval from God, that the spiritually elect can be identified by their material success.

    Of course, that’s a fallacy.

    As the song goes, Eat the Rich!

    If God wanted us to vote, She would have given us candidates.

  7. Finally we babyboomers have been bested by the next generation of activist thinkers and the current generation of revolutionaries. OWS has provided the new generational base for making the big difference, the one that may and can save the best parts of the American democracy, while building in and adding on new roots.

  8. My 13-year-old son spent Saturday night making a poster. He spent most of Sunday (from 9:30 in the morning until I picked him up around 3:30 in the afternoon) sitting on a street corner outside City Hall in our town. He told me he talked to 24 people. Several homeless people gave him money. Many drivers honked, gave him a thumbs up, and in general, registered their support. His sign said: We Are the 99%. Occupy (name of town).
    I have never been prouder.

  9. Shame on the Association for sending a foolish left-wing rant to the alumni by George Lakoff.

  10. Speaking of getting an “F”… I think it was the President who slept in the Oval Office, and ate jelly beans who is mostly responsible for America’s decline. The thing to understand is that legislation takes time to go into effect. The people cannot wait to eat or receive medical care.

    Ed, the ‘whole occupy thing’ is brilliant, not ‘crazy’. If the reactionaries want to spend money that’s their choice. The police aren’t needed – except by the 1% who for all intents and purposes are criminals.

    It’s not going to go away. It has only just begun. And, hopefully it will morph into a full-blown revolution.

    OWS is a spotlight shinning brightly on the activities of the parasites who are destroying the ‘American Dream’ of freedom, equality and democracy.

    Bravo OWS!

    • mike X your a hack ronald reagan and his policies of working people who produced goods and services you fools take for granted created the expansion in economic freedom in world history

  11. This whole Occupy thing is crazy all it is doing is costing local areas a lot of money for police overtime hours. I wish it would go away.

  12. As a parent we see our children born with their physical abilities, personality and social traits pretty much in place. As frustrating as it seems, we are born with our unique perception of the world, and are either givers or takers, red or blue. Neither should be labeled good or bad, because apparently we need both kinds to keep or make the world interesting, but our differences become more diverse as time goes by.
    As a Christian progressive with an inherent pioneer spirit, I cannot comprehend how fundamental conservatives can really believe that everyone should be totally on our their own and neither ask for help or help others.

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