#Occupy The Social Contract
Like many, I've been trying to figure out what the #occupy movement is really all about. I've found a lot of the commentary lacking, so I've come up with my own perspective, which others many find equally lacking. Ultimately, the #Occupy movement is about renegotiating the social contract.
Like many others, my first reaction to the #Occupy movement was that it lacked a clear focus. What do they want? How will they achieve it? I've spent a lot of time in the political system over the past decade, and I've often argued that the ballot box is how we should bring about change in the United States. I've wondered how many of the protesters on Wall Street are registered to vote, have voted, have worked on political campaigns, or run for office.
Yet at the same time, I've supported many great candidates that have lost because our political system is not performing as well as it should. Too many people don't vote. Too many people that do vote, have not seriously thought through the issues. Too much money dominates the process and has too much influence on elected officials. The information that we receive through the media, both traditional and new, is too often incomplete and slanted. Poverty, like many other issues, is not something people have been talking about. We need to get people to think more seriously before our democracy can really work.
Some people have dismissed #occupy for lacking of a clear message. Some have compared it to #Tahrir Square. Others have dismissed this comparison. It is looking more and more to me like the comparison is very apt. Crowds of people disenchanted with the current political and economic situation are taking to the streets. Out of this, an agenda is emerging.
Others have compared this to the left's response to the tea party. I believe this is a mistake. Disillusionment with corporate America is not reserved for the left, and there are reportedly many supporters of Ron Paul participating in the #Occupy movement. The #occupy movement needs to embrace people from everywhere on the political spectrum that seek to forge a new social contract.
David Frum, who served in the George W. Bush administration and later as an advisory to Rudy Giuliani's campaign is quoting Saul Alinsky suggesting that true revolutionaries cut their hair, put on suits and infiltrate the system. What strange times these are for conservatives to be quoting Alinsky. The problem is that many believe the system is too broken to be changed that way. Given the current employment situation, it is probably pretty hard to get a job that will facilitate infiltrating the system.
Instead, the #occupy movement seems to be an expression of grievances that perhaps can best be seen as a need to renegotiate the social contract. Our country has been based on a social contract which believes we are all in this together. Our country has prospered when all have prospered. It has suffered when the least of us have suffered.
Today, I went to a fundraiser for Common Cause. Common Cause is an organization that grew out of the seventies seeking to bring about better government, through transparency, campaign finance reform and increased citizen involvement. Many of the people there have been involved with the political process, working on campaigns, and running for and serving in office. Our keynote speaker cancelled so she could attend the memorial service for Troy Davis in Georgia.
On the drive up to the event, I talked with Kim about how Common Cause should be getting involved. Common Cause has been a vocal opponent of the Citizens United decision. This decision goes against our social contract. It goes against the ideal of equal political power for all citizens. It goes against the need for a more transparent political system. Instead, it put corporations on a political plane above that of normal citizens.
One of the problems with corporations is that they are artificial entities that do not share American values. They are based on maximizing value for shareholders, even if such actions are not in the best interest of our country, or damage our country. Corporations cannot be patriotic any more than foreign entities that seek to profit off of our country.
So, perhaps some of the demands of the #occupy movement will end up being very closely aligned with Common Cause to curtail corporate influence in the political process. Perhaps they will be aligned with shareholder rights movements to make the control of corporations more democratic, and potentially move corporations towards being concerned about our country as part of maintaining shareholder value.
Perhaps, the movement will identify the most egregious captains of industry that are destroying our country and work to get them replaced. An interesting article in Forbes gives a glimpse of this. In Social Power and the Coming Corporate Revolution, David Kirkpatrick quotes Gary Hamel, one of business’ most eminent theoreticians of management, who says,
I don’t think it’s crazy to ask if your CEO is the next Mubarak
It is time to renegotiate the social contract. We need to return to the values based on the understanding that we are all in this together, and that our country has prospered when all have prospered. It has suffered when the least of us have suffered.
These are the thoughts that need to #occupy our minds.