As a Brit I didn’t need to understand all the intricacies of American politics to appreciate the wisdom of a recent comment column in The New Yorker magazine and draw conclusions relevant to the Occupy London Stock Exchange protest which is causing so much grief for St Paul’s Cathedral.
Hendrik Hertzberg draws important parallels with the Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party protest movements even though they are at opposite ends of the left/right spectrum.
“Both arose on the political fringe, more or less spontaneously, in response to the financial crisis and its economic consequences. Neither has authoritative leaders or a formal hierarchical structure,” writes Hertzberg.
The big difference is that the Tea Party has “never doubted the efficacy of elections.”
Its muscle toughened the resolve of a defeated Republican party and forced it further to the right.
The opinion polls indicate millions of Americans agree with OWS about the unfair distribution of wealth in their country. But patience with the camps is wearing thin and with winter approaching there is the danger the advocates of more aggressive civil disobedience will succeed losing the public’s support.
Hertzberg concludes: “Yes, O.W.S. has “changed the conversation.” But talk, however necessary, is cheap. Ultimately, inevitably, the route to real change has to run through politics—the politics of America’s broken, god-awful, immutably two-party electoral system, the only one we have. The Tea Partiers know that. Do the Occupiers?”
The same question has to be asked of Occupy London Stock Exchange. You may feel empowered by the upset you have caused to the St Paul’s hierarchy by camping on the church’s doorstep but where do you take your campaign next?
The answer, I fear, whether spoken or not will be more occupations leading to inevitable confrontations with authority.
It should be framing a political response within our own “god-awful” electoral system.
Meanwhile what is the Labour party about if it’s not fairness? Its leader Ed Miliband should have already gone down to St Paul’s to welcome the protesters into the fold if they are prepared to work within the constraints of our democracy. At the same time he should tell them to go home before they damage their cause.
I suspect, however, that he is too scared to be re-branded ‘Red Ed’ by the Daily Mail to do the brave thing.