Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Occupy needs to go home and vote

The protesters in Chicago will be leaving town soon because the NATO summit is over.  The protesters will plan their next campaign, perhaps an Occupy somewhere, maybe a protest in a city that hosts another national or international summit or conference.  The end result will be the same as before they took to the streets, nobody took much notice beyond the inconvenience they caused to the residents that just wanted to get back and forth to work.

That is unless they make some changes.

The Tea Party did the same thing a few years ago.  Remember the protests at the health care public comment meetings.  They were yelling and screaming at elected officials that voted for the law.  Images of angry people with veins bulging in their necks flashed on the front pages of newspapers around the country.  Two years later instead of continuing to yell and scream they are having a real effect on the outcome of elections.

What is the Tea party doing that is so different then what Occupy and other protest groups on the other extreme doing?  They organized, stayed local and motivated their base.  The establishment noticed because the Tea party people and their supporters showed up to vote.
Individuals and groups can have the very deepest and sincere passions about making changes, but unless they channel the passion, it will go unnoticed by elected officials.  People that are elected to office pay close attention to those that got them elected.  It may be the money people that provided the funds to run an expensive campaign.  It may be the unions that provide a natural organization to motivate.  Or, as we as seeing now, it is the Tea Party that is getting their supporters to the polls.

A politician told me a long time ago about his strategy for keeping his seat in the house.  By his telephone, he kept a voter registration list.  When someone called to make a comment about something, while politely listening he looked for their name on the list.  If it wasn’t there, he got off the phone as soon as he could and moved on.  If the name was there, he made sure he followed up on the issue.
As a community organizer for many years, I paid close attention to those that supported the positions I worked for and that were registered voters.  At the beginning of conversations about the issues I tried to find out the last time they voted and how they stood on the issues.  If they didn’t vote, I moved on to spend my time finding people that did vote.

It matters little that some may think that the system is rigged to help the incumbents.  You can design the very best representative government and somewhere along the process, someone has to vote to support an issue or a candidate.  The issue or the candidate will fail if there aren’t enough votes.  As the old expression goes, victory goes to those that show up.
Much of what Occupy and other groups say would be good for the community.  Any responsible community should support their positions because they will make improvements that are needed.  But, unless they go home and vote after the protesting is done, nothing will change.
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