Rob Horowitz: Occupy Wall Street Should Look to MLK
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Here's hoping that the organizers of Occupy Wall Street were closely watching President Obama’s dedication of the Martin Luther King Memorial this past weekend. The Memorial, located on the Mall in Washington D.C. where King gave his famous “I have a Dream” speech in 1963, will enable a new generation of Americans to learn about King’s towering accomplishments and outsized role in our nation’s history.
King’s successes and strategies offer lessons to any individual or movement looking to make lasting positive changes in our nation He coupled marches and demonstrations with soaring oratory that challenged America to live up to its brightest promise. Just as importantly, King and his allies in the Civil Rights movement did the hard work of devising strategy; building consensus; creating outside momentum as well momentum through traditional political channels; and setting clear and achievable goals.
Marches, demonstrations and sit-ins to King were not ends in themselves, but served a broader strategic purpose. In the main, they were designed to attract the national television and media attention needed to spur the conscience of a nation. Participants in these civil rights actions were extremely disciplined in the face of brutal and violent attacks, risking serious injury and even death, every time they marched.
Further, the Civil Rights movement had specific national policy goals, including the passage of a Civil Rights Act and a Voting Rights Act—the adoptions of which they realized under President Johnson.
Martin Luther King framed the African American quest for genuine equality of opportunity as part of the fulfillment of the American Dream. As President Obama noted, King refused to demonize even the Southern Segregationists he battled--opting to draw on more aspirational and powerful chords that can be drawn from America’s best traditions.
Occupy Wall Street has so far demonstrated an impressive ability to use new technology to generate turn out. For example, the 1,000 people who marched in Rhode Island over the weekend is a pretty sizable outpouring. However, the absence of a specific policy agenda and clearly identifiable spokespeople has already created too much leeway for its opponents to fill in the blanks.
For it to be more than just a passing media fad, Occupy Wall Street needs to move quickly to learn from Martin Luther King how to build a successful movement to shape our nation’s future. Thanks to the launching of this long overdue Memorial, King’s lessons are once again front and center and it couldn’t be more timely.
Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.
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