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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Needed: Wall St. Protest Focus on Money-in-Politics Reforms

Lawrence Lessig has a HuffPo post, “#OccupyWallSt, Then #OccupyKSt, Then #OccupyMainSt,” which merits a thougthful read from everyone who is concerned that the Wall St. protests achieve something substantial. First, Lessig outlines the current predicament:

Writers by the dozen have lamented the influence that Wall Street exercised over Washington throughout the 1990s, leading up to the great collapse of 2008. A multi-billion dollar lobbying campaign, tied to hundreds of millions in campaign contributions, got Washington to erase its regulations and withdraw its regulators. One statistic summarizes it all: in 1980, close to 100 percent of the financial instruments traded in the market were subject to New Deal exchange-based regulations; by 2008, 90 percent were exempted from those regulations, effectively free of any regulatory oversight.
What is surprising — indeed, terrifying, given what it says about this democracy — is what happened after the collapse. That even after the worst financial crises in 80 years, and even after the lions share of responsibility for that crisis had been linked to finance laissez faire, and even after the dean of finance laissez faire, the great Alan Greenspan, expressly confessed that it was wrong, and that he “made a mistake,” nothing changed…We are more at risk of a major financial collapse today than we were a decade ago. And the absolutely obscene bonuses of an industry that pays twice its pretax profits in salaries are even more secure today.

Lessig adds, “The arrest of hundreds of tired and unwashed kids, denied the freedom of a bullhorn, and the right to protest on public streets, may well be the first real green-shoots of this, the American spring. And if nurtured right, it could well begin real change.”
In his WaPo op-ed, “Rescuing America From Wall St.,” Harold Meyerson notes the impressive coalition character of the protests:

Many of these groups have focused on immediate goals — such as stopping particular banks from foreclosing on more homes. They, along with unions, have demonstrated on Wall Street many times since the 2008 financial crisis. But only now, as Occupy Wall Street — an organization that they didn’t create — has grabbed the public imagination the past few weeks, are the myriad mobilizations commanding the media’s attention.
“It’s a confluence of planned and unplanned demonstrations,” says Stephen Lerner, a longtime organizer for the Service Employees International Union who once spearheaded the union’s successful campaign to organize big-city janitors and today helps guide the groups in New Bottom Line. “We build on each other. We go ping-ponging back and forth.”
Planned and unplanned, the groups are coming together. The imminent mixing of largely young and countercultural Wall Street occupiers with more seasoned and hard-nosed unionists and middle-class liberals may produce some clashes of style, but their shared anger at what banks have done to them — to all of us — should be sufficient to cement this nascent coalition. It had better be.

But Lessig, whose post is as hard on Democrats as it is on Republicans, urges that the protests get focused on corruption and campaign finance reform as central priorities for the protests:

…These protesters should see that they are that one striking at the root. They should understand that our system has been corrupted by money — even if the Supreme Court refuses to call it “corruption,” and even if political scientists are unsure about whether their regressions can show it. And they should recognize that until this root is hacked, the weeds of this corruption will continue to destroy this democracy, and this nation.
This corruption is our common enemy. So let this protest first #OccupyWallSt, and then #OccupyKSt. And then let the anger and outrage that it has made clear lead many more Americans to #OccupyMainSt, and reclaim this republic.

Lessig, like Meyerson, is optimistic about the potential of Occupy Wall St., given focus and discipline: “For if done right, this movement just may have that potential. What the protesters are saying is true: Wall Street’s money has corrupted this democracy. What they are demanding is right: An end to that corruption. And as Flickr feeds and tweets awaken a slumbering giant, the People, the justice in this, yet another American revolution, could well become overwhelming, and finally have an effect.”

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