Saturday, November 26, 2011

The political salience of local protest outside the bounds of elections alone

I've been consistently beating the drum that local protest movements (like "Occupy") need not lead to election results in order to have political merit, despite claims from critics all over the spectrum to the contrary. Out of Oregon comes news that protesters are having a profound affect on municipal policy matters without need of political parties or the ballot box:

Two weeks after Portland mayoral candidate and state Rep. Jefferson Smith publicly challenged Portland to move some of its money to local credit unions, Mayor Sam Adams this morning said he would pursue the cause.

The mayor's comments came during the public testimony portion of Wednesday's regular Portland City Council meeting and follow on the heels of the Occupy Wall Street movement and related protests against national banks. The city of Seattle this week adopted its own "responsible banking" resolution in response to the same forces.

The city of Portland has tens of millions of dollars in Wells Fargo, one target of protesters' discontent. But it was unclear as of Wednesday what specifically Adams would do differently ....

Todd Olson, the Portlander who introduced the topic during public testimony at City Council, said following through would allow the city to "address the gross inequity that brought 10,000 Oregonians to the streets of Portland six weeks ago."

This is a textbook example of how local protest groups should target city councils and Mayor's Offices to leverage real changes that move capital from powerful Wall Street banks to local institutions with larger local bang. It is not the first time cities have departed from federal policy to leverage positive change at home. 2 decades ago cities conducted an end-around President Ronald Reagan's support for South Africa and its apartheid government. By the end of the 1980s almost 100 US cities had divested from companies doing business with South Africa.

Likewise, cities are setting new headings due to Occupy Wall Street's fight against corporate malfeasance even as the Obama Administration is doing little to regulate the finance industry. That fills an under-utilized niche that politicos and party wonks ignore or hand over to others with conflicts of interest. The American Prospect has more:

"Banking is now a salient political issue," testified Olson before the city council. "Where local governments choose to bank is a political and social act."

It sure is. Now. And it would take a hearty dose of self-delusion to think that Occupy Wall Street hasn't contributed to creating a moment where wonky discussions of credit union collateralization are perfectly normal. That's true even if the folks in Zuccotti Park aren't the ones churning out white papers. That's how change politics works. And if Bloomberg thinks that "things aren't working well," another option would be for him to help figure out sensible responses, instead of chiding Occupy Wall Street protestors for not presenting end-to-end solutions wrapped in a bow, without anyone else's participation. That's a rather sad view of how change happens.

Hopefully, this trend will spill over to protesters here in Tennessee, and we will start to see pressure put on Mayors like Karl Dean to stop Metro Nashville investments in our abusive and malfeasant finance industry (the Dean Administration climbed into bed with unseemly Goldman Sachs to finance the new convention center).

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