It's clear that Occupy Wall Street has established itself in the popular imagination—at least for now. The protests and encampments served to propel Occupy Wall Street, and local variations of the phrase, into a brand name. Things are at a turning point as police are clearing the Occupy encampments in various cities. If OWS is being forced to move out, it might as well move up! By this I mean the time has come to engage electoral politics. Washington's unique election rules make the state a natural breeding ground for grass-roots groups like Occupy Wall Street to get their party on the ballot and representatives who share their values into office.
Most states have what's called a plurality voting system, in which the candidate with the most votes wins. With these rules, most voters will not vote for a third party or independent candidate because they're afraid of splitting the vote and electing their least-favored candidate. But recent changes in election rules have moved the Evergreen State toward a majority-winner ballot system, in which candidates of every party run in the SAME primary and the top two vote-getters then run off in the general election. Candidates for office can pick any party they like as a banner to run under. And voters can pick any candidate in the primary. Gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi, for example, ran under the PREFERS GOP flag rather than REPUBLICAN in his bid for governor in 2008.
So, how about PREFERS OWS PARTY next to a candidate's name on the ballot? How about PREFERS Occupy Wall St. PARTY or even PREFERS Occupy Seattle PARTY? There are no ballot access barriers like petitions—just pay a filing fee and you're on the ballot. So what does a candidate get for their money? How about having the OWS brand name on every ballot in a district or even the state? In addition, every voter receives a state-funded Voters' Guide in the mail that includes a candidate statement from each person on the ballot. Seems like a nifty place to advocate OWS principles.
This sounds relatively easy, so here's where the work comes in: Now that cities are clearing Occupy camps—just in time for winter weather—why not put energy into building a political organization? Some Occupy groups already have assemblies that are passing resolutions and adopting policy platforms. This interest aggregation can dovetail into campaign messaging for candidates, and it's here where nominations can start.
No need for coronations by bosses or in smoke-filled back rooms—nominations can be transparent and inclusive. Last month, socialists in France nominated candidates for president with privately funded and administered open primaries. Millions of French turned out to vote for the socialist nomination. The socialists did this because in past elections they were splitting their vote in the primary, thus locking themselves out of the runoff. The primary also gives their nominee legitimacy. In British Columbia, conservatives this year used the Internet along with telephone technology to nominate their party's leadership.
This is an opportunity for leaders to emerge who, in the course of campaigning for a nomination, engage OWS activists and others interested in the policies the movement promotes.
The period for filing for office is in June. That means there's time to draft and adopt a policy platform and nominate candidates for office. (The major parties are nominating their presidential candidates with caucuses in March.)
Let's jump to primary election time in August. Maybe some OWS candidates will make it to the top two. In the 1st Congressional District, where the boundaries aren't even official yet, eight candidates are already declared for the open U.S. House seat. That means the base threshold to win the primary and enter the runoff is 12.5 percent! But even if OWS doesn't advance into the runoff, the idea is to get behind one of the candidates who does. Get some kind of commitment from one of the top two candidates regarding OWS policies. After the election, stay involved and build toward 2014 and beyond.
This is how I see OWS engaging current electoral rules. It's by no means a call to start some stodgy political party. And why not have a parallel goal of sustaining a fellowship that works toward shared needs and values? Build a structure outside of the corporate and governmental sphere the good old-fashioned anarcho-pacifist way.
I can't imagine another way to sustain Occupy Wall Street than engaging electoral politics. Conflict with the state will only sap energy. Washington, D.C., and Olympia are teeming with all kinds of groups and associations. They're not camping outside of the system and getting chased off by police. These people work in enduring organizations that glean results from their legislatures. If bankers can do it, so can OWS.
Krist Novoselic is the chairman of FairVote and the founding bassist of Nirvana.