A few friends and I had the chance to be in Chapman and Lonsdale squares on the last day that the Occupy Portland movement had their encampment set up. We were conducting a survey to learn more about the political views of the Occupiers. Since then I have been asked by a lot of people what I thought and any insights I might have about the movement.
Honestly I'm still trying to put together what I learned from the experience but I thought it would be a good idea to share some of my thoughts. I am sure this will change as I go over the results of the survey, which we hope to release by the end of the month.
The first thing I noticed was many of the Occupiers supported what would be considered fringe political and social views. I met many articulate Socialists, Greens, Anarchists and more than a few people who really can't be classified. The only thing that I thought really united these various political views is that they are what would be considered in American to be fringe political views that tend to be marginalized in the political debate of this nation.
Now just because these ideas are not mainstream in the United States doesn't mean that they are crazy or should not be a part of the political debate. The issue, as I see it, is more about how we have set up our political institutions. Since we use a system of First Past the Post Voting, political views that can not get a very large number of votes virtually never win an election or any type of representation. This results in many peoples political views, especially those in the Occupy movement, never winning an election or seeing an elected official that shares their views. Which means that many smart people who have legitimate political views, which are represented in other nations, have no representing in the American political system.
Many people I talked with often complained about "the system" and that they didn't have a voice in our government. Which is completely true in many cases. I am not sure that this can be blamed directly on corruption or on the 1% holding the people down as many Occupiers argued. I see it more as a result of how we have set up our political systems and the types of voting systems that we use. Other nations have made different choices that results in representation of less mainstream parties such as the Liberal Democrats being part of the coalition government in the UK and the Free Democratic Party being in the coalition in Germany.
The exclusion of these politicly views results in people who support the political views of the Greens, Socials, and Libertarians being marginalized and even mocked in our media and civil debate, even though these political philosophies are arguable more developed and consistent than anything the Democratic or Republican party has to offer.
The overall Occupy Wall-street Movement is probably being helped by the fact that it appears that more and more people are feeling that the two parties don't represent them and that a 3rd party is a waste of time. This is a very rational view of our current political system. For better of worse our system was set up to exclude political views that are not a part of mainstream culture. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Most people would probably agree that we would rather not see a KKK party winning elections and being a part of our elected government. At the same time though this means that groups like the Greens, who have had a large impact on public policy in Germany and much of the EU, is excluded from our political institutions and policy debates.