Seen in one way, the 20 or so Occupy Wall Street protesters who have marched more than 200 miles from New York to Washington are be a bit late to the party.
When the marchers set out on foot earlier this month, they did so as a statement to tell the so-called congressional supercommittee not to retain the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
In that sense, the protesters needn’t have bothered. By the time the protesters actually enter the capital on Tuesday, supercommittee members will have already declared defeat all on their own.
But in another, crucial sense, these protesters represent the future of the Occupy movement. In its first two months of exuberant existence, Occupy has been both praised and criticized for having avoided any direct political engagement.
By taking a stand on specific issues — those of tax rates and federal spending — the “Occupy The Highway” marchers will be walking the entire movement into the realm of political force. It’s a first step, to be sure, but an important one.
This march represents a clear way that the movement can fight even more effectively for the 99 percent despite having lost the ability to form encampments in New York and other cities nationwide. No doubt the Occupiers will have to feel their way through their path of political advocacy, but it needn’t be as difficult as some may fear.
The protesters ought to reach out to those politicians who have already embraced their movement, such as Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, or Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren. These trusted political leaders could help guide Occupy on effective political advocacy without getting co-opted.
Done in a smart, savvy kind of way, getting more deeply involved in policy and politics could well keep the movement ahead in public opinion. Polls clearly indicate Americans continue to back the goals of Occupy, even if they had begun to question the movement’s use of encampments.
Occupy has been talking about entering a Phase II ever since the overnight raid that evicted the protesters from their home in Zuccotti Park. A deeper political involvement clearly should be part of that future.
It’s true that Occupy employs a non-hierarchical organizational and decision-making model. However, that model still allowed for Occupy The Highway to make its long, southward trek to confront the supercommittee.
It should also enable Occupiers to get involved in other central political questions, too. I, for one, would be pleased to see Occupy coming back here to Washington in the coming months, again and again. And next time, instead of being late, I’m certain that Occupy will come just in the nick of time.
Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade. Capitol Idea is his regular column from Washington. This article was first published as Walking Into Washington, Protesters Will Be Marching Occupy Into The Future on Blogcritics.