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How to Make Change Happen
Nov 16, 2011
The Occupy Wall Street movement has clearly succeeded in occupying America's attention. The big question now is when will these protesters succeed in effecting real change?
Perhaps they already have. Last week, the Obama Administration decided to investigate alternative routes for the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline. That decision prompted TransCanada to promise to reroute Keystone XL away from the ecologically sensitive Nebraska Sand Hills and the Ogallala Aquifer.
Naomi Klein contends that pipeline opponents couldn't have won these concessions without Occupy Wall Street's efforts to “change the conversation.” Perhaps.
But the Occupiers won't win their broader fight for the 99% without learning from Keystone XL's opponents. In fighting TransCanada’s tar sands pipeline, folks like Jane Kleeb and Bill McKibben took on big corporate power. Like Occupy Wall Street, they had no unifying big-money partisan network. Unlike Occupy, they rallied thousands of people around a very specific, measurable goal: stop Keystone XL.
Keystone XL opponents staged numerous public protests, but they took their fight to the decision-makers who could hand them victory. From the Nebraska Legislature to the White House, pipeline protesters made clear to the decision-makers that making the wrong decision on Keystone XL would have political consequences.
And the decision-makers listened. Governor Dave Heineman changed his mind and called the Nebraska Legislature into special session to consider new pipeline regulations. President Obama, who had seemed distressingly tone-deaf on Keystone XL, started to pay attention to the protests and send signals about the right priorities. The Obama Administration's decision last week clearly signaled that Kleeb, McKibben, and the rest of us got our message across. Mission accomplished.
I want Occupy Wall Street to do some good for the 99%. But to do that good, Occupy needs to build on raising voices and awareness to advance clear policy objectives. They need to turn changing the conversation into changing the rules.
Keystone XL protesters won by challenging specific lawmakers on a specific policy goal. They grabbed the political bull by the horns and steered it in a different direction. Occupiers, do the same. You’ve Occupied the streets. Now it’s time to Occupy the decision-makers. Forget Occupying the parks and Wall Street. Occupy the statehouses. Occupy the White House. Occupy Congress.
Cory Allen Heidelberger writes the Madville Times political blog. He grew up on the shores of Lake Herman. He studied math and history at SDSU and information systems at DSU, and is currently teaching French at Spearfish High School. A longtime country dweller, Cory is enjoying "urban" living with his family in Spearfish.