Will Occupy Make a Comeback?

I don't know about you, but I kind of miss the Occupy Wall Street movement of last fall and wonder whether the advent of warm weather will bring back this politically-charged protest.

I'm not saying I agreed completely with the Occupy protesters' complaints, but I admired their tenacity and ability to change the political conversation in America.

Last summer, you may recall, everyone in Washington, D.C. was debating the national debt. The government almost shut down because the President and the GOP couldn't agree on a spending plan that would limit this country's short- and long-term debt.

You would have thought in the dog days of July 2011, that the national coffers were so bare that Congressional leaders were going to head back to their home districts with tin cups to take up a collection of coins to pay for basic government services.

But, thankfully, that manufactured crisis passed and in September 2011 a dogged band of protesters started camping out in New York's Zuccotti Park, a stone's throw from Wall Street, to expose the "financial inequalities" in our country.

Initially, these activists were written off as 1960s throwbacks, misguided youth who had no message and no goals. Their critics were totally wrong; the Occupy movement spread like wildfire to other cities and countries and their message of exposing financial inequality brought out about by government policies became the dominant theme through the end of 2011 and into 2012.

I had a first-hand experience with Occupy that gave me both admiration and skepticism about the movement. Last October 25, at the peak of the Occupy Wall Street encampment, I decided to spend a full evening at Zuccotti Park, speaking with the people camping there to understand their concerns. I stayed overnight, fitfully trying to sleep on a yoga mat and in a sleeping bag. It was a night to remember, and not just because of the 300-pound guy sleeping at my feet who brushed against me a few times.

They say you really don't know a person until you walk a mile in his or her shoes. I decided that by sleeping at Zuccotti Park I would truly understand the concerns of the self-proclaimed "99 percent."

I learned a lot that evening, and chronicled my experience in an op-ed in the New York Daily News. I was impressed by the intelligence and thoughtfulness of many of the protesters, one of whom took great pains to explain to me why the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in the 1990s led to much of our country's financial pain about 10 years later.

I was saddened and disappointed when less than a month later, the Zuccotti Park encampment was dismantled by New York City's police force. This act, although perhaps justified as necessary to protect public health and safety in that area, seemed to take all the wind out of the sails of the Occupy Movement and like a wild bear, OWS went into hibernation last winter.

Their sometimes ill-framed debate has gotten me thinking about this notion of "economic inequality" in America.

Our country was founded on the premise of equal opportunity and justice for all, regardless of ethnicity, race, gender or class. America was a place where immigrants could come, take advantage of our public education system, work hard and become wealthy and free.

America is not a place where we guarantee equal outcomes. But we are a place where the starting line should be the same for all, where opportunity should be equal and where the laws of the land should not favor one group over another.

That is the role of the government -- to protect the many from the special interests of the few. Where regulations and laws are put in place to protect and assist those in need and to allow those who work hard and who innovate to succeed from their hard work and creativity.

Occupy Wall Street was founded after the government helped bail out banking institutions but did little to help homeowners around the country whose main asset was being foreclosed. To the OWS crowd, this dichotomy was at the heart of the growing chasm of wealth in this country.

Helping to save large banks was a wise plan and this helped stabilize our financial system. But in the wake of this, too little was done to help create enough jobs for Americans out of work and our economic recovery has been sluggish at best.

We now enter a presidential campaign where the economy is once again the dominant theme. The president's slow growth policies, which have included a major overhaul of our health care system, will be on trial.

But in the background, I suspect, will be the steady drumbeat of the Occupy Movement, returning to remind everyone in this country that we need to do more to rebuild our middle class. Upward mobility must once again become a real goal, rather than a quaint, nostalgic notion.

Occupy is more than a collection of disaffected people who are railing against our economic system; it is America's conscience calling on each of us to work to make our country a place where all boats can rise.

Let's hope Occupy 2.0 is a more focused and effective movement that will have a positive effect during the coming political season. Let's hope it continues to influence the discussion about what kind of country we will be in the coming years.

Once again, the world will be watching. Occupy can be our generation's civil rights movement.

What's at stake is the re-emergence of the middle class in our country, the bedrock America was built upon.

Tom Allon is a liberal and Democratic candidate for mayor of New York City in 2013. He spent the night in Zuccotti Park on October 25, 2011.

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