how can the #occupy movement influence policy?

I’ve been following the #Occupy efforts across the country and recently I’ve heard more that the energy spent “camping” could be better applied to making real changes. No movement has been successful without people working both inside and outside the system. It is critical to have those protesting and putting pressure on the system as well as those allied in positions of power to make change happen.

There are a few instances of #Occupy efforts having real local impacts on people’s lives and some policies, but not many. The major outcomes that the #Occupy movement seems to desire are real changes to policies and structures within government and business. I think that locally based #Occupy movements across the country can easily change direction from fending off police crackdowns to making serious changes to local policies and structures. A little “power mapping” can go a long way. Well not everyone can take the time to “occupy” a space or drop their commitments to protest, there are likely many sympathizers sitting in office buildings and at working at home who are important allies. Likewise, there are likely many local and state level politicians who agree strongly with the #Occupy ideals, but need the extra push from citizen involvement to stand up and make changes to policy.

“collective challenges, based on common purposes and social solidarities, in sustained interaction with elites, opponents, and authorities. […] Riots and other flashes in the pan aren’t a social movement–it isn’t a movement unless it is “sustained.” – Tarrow, Power in Movement

1. Local Politics:

One of the best things about the #Occupy movement is that it is decentralized. Not every city is the same, not every occupation has the exact same goals. There are local nuances to politics, policies, and structures that can be changed with a critical mass of people working together. Anger with the system is a positive. Take the time to look through local policies and ordinances that cause undo difficulty or harm to people, whether its related to corporations or not. Enough people can get an issue added to the local ballot with enough signatures. The Occupy Wall Street protesters have decentralized themselves even further to subway stations and other locations to spread their message. I can easily see local #Occupy groups canvassing for a local ballot initiative to change the way corporations can operate within their city. Supporting local candidates for City Council and for State Congress who share the values of the #Occupy movement are a great way to influence policies and structures.

I’ve been fighting to keep this building for the community,” Blakely said. “But I’m an old lady. I had no man-power.

The Occupy Wall Street efforts have a great example of local action with a real impact in Harlem. Protesters staged a sit-in to prevent the gentrification of an apartment complex where the landlord was hoping that withholding heat would make the current tenants leave. The occupiers efforts forced the landlord to grant access to the boiler room and, by emergency order of the city, install a brand new one. This is an excellent example of the potential for #Occupy movement to have real local impacts on people’s lives.

2. Credit Unions:

Now more than ever, people are conscious of who takes care of their money and where it’s going. Big Banks have conducted predatory lending for decades, large lending institutions have collapsed, and the economic crisis has highlighted a need to have greater control of ones finances.

The best place to save your money, have greater control of it, and know that it is helping your local community is in a credit union. Credit unions are cooperative banking institutions that typically operate as non-profit institutions dedicated to serving its members, those who set-up banking accounts and keep their money there. Many credit unions also run programs to teach financial literacy and participate in community efforts.

The Credit Union National Association (CUNA) reported 600,000 new credit union members in 2010. Since September 29, 2011 until reported on November 3, 2011 roughly 650,000 people had become new members of a credit union. One month saw more credit union members than an entire year. The spike in membership coincides with Bank of America’s $5 fee for debit, but also matches with the growing discontent with the financial system and the #Occupy protests. The important thing to note is that joining credit unions isn’t a partisan issue.

3. Cooperative Institutions:

Another key issue that many people have highlighted with the #Occupy protests is that of the harmful practices of corporations. Some of the best places of work have been companies that are worker-owned and run.

“Cooperatives are a reminder to the international community that it is possible to pursue both economic viability and social responsibility.” – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon

The United Nations has marked 2012 as the “International Year of Cooperatives.” Arguably one of the world’s largest and most influential institutions has decided to highlight businesses and organizations that utilize people power. The UN is talking about cooperatives building a better world: greater food security, balance between profit and people’s needs, and focus on self-help. Some have argued that the #Occupy movement needs to embrace the cooperative movement.

While cooperatives have been around for a long time and they hold great prospects for the “developing” world, they also offer great opportunities for US businesses and organizations. Not too long ago in 2008, the Republic Windows and Doors workers occupied their factory after receiving 3 days notice that the company would be shutting down. After a 6 day occupation, rally at Bank of America, and support from local organizations and politicians, the workers won their fight for the pay they were owed. After winning their occupation, the workers considered restarting the company as a worker-owned cooperative business. In the end they were bought by a eco-building company. It was noted that due to a lack of greater support for cooperative business development in the US they had difficulty finding the resources they needed to put together a cooperative business.

This is a perfect example of what dedicated workers can do at their businesses today. Instead of occupying streets and parks, why not help workers occupy their businesses and establish worker-owned cooperatives. Joining or starting a cooperative organization is an important first step to changing the structures that develop policies that will directly impact our well-being.

The future of the #Occupy movement may seem to be uncertain, but with greater involvement in local politics and policy, increased control over finances, and more people-focused power structures – the #Occupy movement could have a dramatic effect on how our world works.

If you’ve heard of any #Occupy political platforms, candidates, or efforts to influence policy please post them here. Thanks!