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Occupy Wall Street’s Next Step Is to Set a Reform Agenda: View

By the Editors
November 15, 2011 7:12 PM EST

Let’s get the complicated part out of the way: This subject (Occupy Wall Street) for this editorial section (Bloomberg View, part of Bloomberg LP, majority-owned by Michael R. Bloomberg, mayor of New York) has “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” written all over it.

Yet we’re going to opt for “damned if you do” for the sole reason that yesterday’s swift removal of the Occupy Wall Street protesters from Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park, after demonstrations were shut down in Portland, Oregon, and Oakland, California, marks an important evolution in the life of a significant movement.

Mayor Bloomberg insisted that the protesters be allowed back into the park, although not to camp there any longer. This seems a sensible compromise. Concerns over safety and health at the site were legitimate, and the assertion of political grievances shouldn’t require tents and tarps to enter the public arena. In a ruling yesterday, New York State Supreme Court Justice Michael Stallman agreed.

So what’s next -- for protesters in New York and around the world? They might consider a proposal of one of the movement’s leading voices, Kalle Lasn, the founder of the Canadian website Adbusters: “We declare ‘victory’ and throw a party.”

Lasn -- who warned last week that “the other side is owning the narrative right now. People are talking about drugs and criminals at OWS” -- is right that there is much to celebrate. A small group of people has imprinted on the American and global consciousness an important message that must be addressed: Inequality is growing extreme, and opportunity is becoming constricted. Although the protesters appear to have no unified agenda and plenty of complaints, that core observation has struck a chord across political and economic divides the world over.

Rather than risk losing public support through accounts of lawbreaking at their encampment, or a dwindling of their numbers as cold weather sets in, the protesters in New York and elsewhere would do well to clear their heads, refine their message and set an agenda for reform.

Even those Americans apathetic about or opposed to the protests have to acknowledge the success of the movement. As with the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street showed that political forces too large to ignore can still be marshaled at the margins. Both groups are a reminder that political change can work from the outside in, with wilder, rougher ideas gaining refinement as they make their way to the center.

We agree with some of the arguments raised by the Occupy Wall Street protesters and disagree with many more -- particularly the divisive, simplistic notion that society is a 99-percent-versus-1-percent dichotomy. But we applaud the discussion that’s been opened, and hope it can turn constructively to the mission of seeing that all Americans have an equal opportunity to succeed.

To contact the Bloomberg View editorial board: view@bloomberg.net.

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