You say you want a revolution? Run for office

Demonstrators carry metal Occupy Wall Street sign this week in Downtown Manhattan

Story highlights

  • Paul Sracic says if Occupy Wall Streeters want change, they should run for office
  • He says demonstrating in a park won't do anything about corporate power in U.S.
  • He says protesters want inclusion, consensus, but they have it; it's called democracy
  • Sracic: Rallies are fun; running for office not as much. To change U.S., get in game
Zuccotti Park is not Tahrir Square, because the United States is not Egypt.
In case this is not obvious to those camping out near Wall Street and in various other cities around the country, consider the following: In about 13 months, all 435 members of the House of Representatives must stand for election. In addition, 33 Senate seats and residency at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will be up for grabs. And this is just at the federal level. So if the "Occupy Wall Street" crowd wants to peacefully overthrow the government, there is no need to gather in a public square. The demonstrators can work for a candidate or run themselves.
Unfortunately, those who are part of this movement seem to have dismissed this option. The New York group has produced a manifesto of sorts, entitled a "Declaration of the Occupation of New York City." Among the grievances listed (which they helpfully note are not "all-inclusive") is "that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power."
So are we to conclude that since corporations control American politics, the best thing for us to do is to sit outside in a park and issue manifestos? Writing in the pages of CNN.com, Douglas Rushkoff chastises those of us who don't understand the point of all this, explaining that Occupy Wall Street is "the product of the decentralized networked-era culture, it is less about victory than sustainability. It is not about one-pointedness, but inclusion and groping toward consensus."
Well, in the U.S., groups made up of disparate individuals "network" themselves together to make collective decisions all the time. We call it democracy. As for "victory" being exchanged for "sustainability," how is it that these are interchangeable nouns? Political processes tend to be ongoing and aimed at "sustainability." Congress does not just take a vote and then dissolve.
Paul Sracic
"Victory," as Rushkoff terms it, is just a way of saying that we have reached a decision. It is probably not our first, and let's hope, not our last. And though it is not always pretty, President Barack Obama, U.S. House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Harry Reid spend most of their time "groping toward consensus." They must do so, however, in the real world, where people disagree.
But let's get back to that idea about democracy not being possible because corporations run everything. This feeling, I think, is at the root of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Now, no one is going to say that money doesn't play a role in politics. It always has, and it always will. What does this mean? Well, if you want to influence the nation's politics you have to raise money. So raise some money.
In this sense, Rushkoff is right to talk about how, in a networked and wired world, politics is different. It is now much cheaper to get your message out. Where 20 years ago a candidate would have to raise hundreds or thousands of dollars to fund a mass mailing, voters are now just a mouse click away. Not enough money to buy traditional advertising? There is the Internet -- Facebook and Twitter, for example. Ron Paul, hardly a favorite of corporate America, has managed to use this new technology to raise several million dollars in just a day.
Technology has leveled the political playing field. Still, as they say about the lottery, you have to be in it to win it. So if you want to change America, you have to get in the game.
But here's the rub: Occupations and rallies are fun. Electoral politics is hard. The rules are complex, and so are the voters. A gathering in the street has a lot in common with a party. Running for office and working for a candidate is like a 9 to 5 job.
And getting involved in the political process forces you out of your comfort zone. Instead of hanging out with a few hundred -- or a few thousand -- people who basically agree with you, you have to confront and perhaps persuade those who don't agree with you. In the process, however, you will learn more about democracy then you will at any teach-in.
So my suggestion to Occupy Wall Street and their affiliates throughout the country is to pay as much attention to their 15th Amendment right to vote as they do to their 1st Amendment right to peaceably assemble. In other words, get out of your sleeping bags and onto the ballot!