The noisy, focused, tireless Keystone XL protest movement appears to have gotten somewhere, with a delay in a decision from the White House, the promise of an investigation into conflicts of interest, and the rerouting of the pipeline away from what might as well be our national aquifer. Jane Mayer of the New Yorker writes:
[T]he Occupy movement could do worse than to learn from the pipeline protest. The difference between the focussed, agenda-driven campaign fought by the environmentalists and the free-form, leaderless one waged by the Occupiers, the historian Michael Kazin says, is that the environmentalists grasped the famous point made by Dr. King’s political forebear, Frederick Douglass: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
Occupy Wall Street is famously understood to have no fixed demands; the activists, the argument goes, are their own demands. And maybe that’s true. You could look at the haunting tape from U.C. Davis this weekend and say that yes, the quiet presence of the students is its own demand, made through nonviolence and utter silence.
Today the news will spend time on the details of the impending congressional supercommittee fail in Washington, D.C., picking over which side wanted what, in the name of understanding the collapse that everyone knew was coming almost all along. One thing that’s really easy to get: This system is broken. Part of what you get by waiting out the supercommittee or the police or the U.C. Davis chancellor is that everyone can see the system is broken. You force the parties into playing the parts for the public, as surely the Occupy Occupy Wall Street guys draw the 1 percent and the 99 percent into clear view.
Some day, elected leaders might find a fix in the details of policy – like the Bush tax cuts that have drained the Treasury – but for now, the story is that the system is broken, told in the 21st century equivalent of the flower child naively, bravely putting a flower into a gun. The demand is that people entrenched in power change the way they think. Start there, and see what happens.