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US Feature: Occupy Wall Street and "A Possible Seismic Shift" in Politics

Earlier this week, we noted how the website was linking on Wednesday nigth to 374 meetups throughout the nation, up from 250 earlier in the day. Less than 24 hours later, the figure was 783 and it continues to rise with international meetings joining the Occupy movement. 

In Philadelphia, Thursday's introductory rally demonstrated the growth from the ground up. Only 14 people had committed to attend on a Facebook page, but reports showed more than 600 at City Hall.

Looking abroad, "Occupylsx" has announced via Twitter last night that an organising General Assembly will be held on Sunday at Westminster Bridge. It remains to be seenwhether the London group, who have followed the example set at Wall Street of a leaderless assembly, will also adopt the human microphone method of addressing large crowds.

The developments of this week have established the Occupy movement is not going away any time soon, Whether or not it has a long-term impact on American politics is another matter, but the anger of the "99%" at the current corporate culture is resonating. 

That anger has now made it into The Washington Post. A recent Special Report on "Breakaway Wealth" showed how executives exorbitant, and undeserved, pay rises were the result of a shady process known as "peer-benchmarking". Writing for the newspaper,  Harold Meyerson praised Occupy for potentially "Rescuing America".

Meyerson explains how the removal of some New Deal era regulations in the 1970s and 1980s has ushered in an era where “once the servant of industry, banking became our dominant industry. It has ceased to serve us. We serve it.” And continuing the theme of "Breakaway Wealth", Meyerson  illustrates how for “more than three decades, from 1948 to 1982, pay levels in finance ranged from 99 to 108 percent of the average of private-sector pay. By 2007 they had reached 181 percent.”

The move towards an anti-corporate" stance has not gone unnoticed by conservatives, with some calling for the candidates to boycott the Washington Post/Bloomberg News-moderated Republican debate on 11 October.  And Erick Erickson at, after a scathing attack on “man-child” Ezra Klein, summed up his opinion of some other writers at the paper:

The Washington Post also hosts Greg Sargent, the Democratic Party’s official mouthpiece at the Post. The Post hosts Jenn Rubin who claims to be a conservative but has spent the better part of her career at the Post advocating the release of the traitor Jonathan Pollard and routinely bashing Senator Jim DeMint. Then there is Glen Kessler, who is the Washington Post’s in-house “fact checker”, where he is too busy leveling attacks at MItt Romney, Rick Perry and others to check facts.

And there are signs of an increasingly combative Democratic Party in Washington. On Thursday night, The Hill broke the news that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada.) had invoked the so-called "nuclear option" in the Senate, a procedural move that allows a a majority to pass legislation without being held up by a filibuster. Alongside Reid's recent call for a 5% surtax on incomes above $1 million to pay for the President's job bill, and the President's more aggressive tone toward his opponents, it appears that the growth of Occupy Wall Street is being parallelled by a Democratic willingness to campaign at the next elections on a progressive and populist anti-GOP ticket.

Indeed, the political strategy may be getting a boost from the mood fostered by Occupy, judging by some of the numbers in the latest Washington Post poll: “A whopping 70 percent say Republicans are more interested in protecting the interests of the wealthy than those of the middle class — while 52 percent say Obama protects the interests of the latter".  The poll also found that the President has strong support among moderates and Independents for his jobs plan, as “a majority of moderates (53-27) and a plurality of independents (44-31) trust Obama more on jobs.”

Poll numbers, especially a long thirteen months before an election, are an unreliable foundation for building campaign success. But the growing momentum of the Occupy movement gives some credence to the idea that President Obama can win an election that is all about “anger” with the current corporate system.

Meanwhile, the rough days for the Occupy movement are still ahead, with every member of the "politics as usual" crowd inevitably trying to co-opt this popular uprising to their own ends. It is from those interested parties you will see ever-increasing demands to know ''What Does This Movement Actually Want?", either from a desire to ridicule and dismiss, or from the electioneering cry of we can deliver what you desire.

But I am not sure if that old paradigm of political protest, with a set of concrete demands to be fought for at the ballot box every two years, works any more. It is not just this  burgeoning movement from the  left --– if it is even as simple as that to characterise –-- but the emergence of the Tea Party as well that is leading to a possible seismic shift in the way politics is conducted in the United States.

I have even less of a clue what that means for a social media "revolution" in American politics. But one thing is for sure, with the this latest move to a more participatory democratic culture, and two parties in Washington using that energy to become more partisan, the challenges raised by Occupy Wall Street are now far more than a political blip.

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