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Finding Populism Today

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Mass movements don't just appear out of the fog, fully grown, structured and mobilized. They emerge in fits and starts over many years, just as the American Revolution did, and as did the Populists' original idea of a "cooperative commonwealth." A successful people's movement has to take the long view, to learn about itself as it builds, nurture the culture of its people, take chances, create fun for all involved, adapt to failures and successes, stay steadfast to its principles, have a stoic tenacity - and organize, organize, organize. A little serendipity helps, too, so grab it when you can.

In 2011 a serendipitous moment for the populist cause rumbled across our land, though later it was widely (and wrongly) dismissed as a failure. That September, hundreds of young people, loosely aligned with an upstart group called Occupy Wall Street, took over Zuccotti Park in New York City and audaciously camped out on the front stoop of the elite banksters who'd crashed our economy. Occupy's depiction of the 1-percent vs. the 99-percent struck a chord with the unemployed, underemployed, and the knocked-down middle class. Occupy encampments quickly sprang up in some 200 cities and towns from coast to coast.  

The uprising was ridiculed (even by many progressive groups) as naive, undisciplined and "not serious." Who's in charge? Where's their strategic plan? Why don't they have position papers? All this carping about Occupy failing to produce the usual trappings of a Washington-focused interest group missed two essential points the young people were making: (1) such trappings are not producing any change, and (2) we're not an interest group, we're a rebellion.  


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