The Occupy movement has clearly made its point to the world; that much of its mission is accomplished. But the protests seem never-ending, and that indicates the participants don't know what else to do. And that raises doubts about whether they will change the course of the nation.
The protests have dragged on to the point where they seem more against city governments than against their intended targets: millionaires and the politicians who cater to them. The American public, like the First Amendment, generally supports "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." But squatting in parks and battling police are unnecessary, unsavory and confuse the public about the movement's aim: Anarchy or democracy? Reform or revolution?
Similar dynamics happened with the anti-globalization protests of the late 1990s - for example, the 1999 "Battle of Seattle" - and the Vietnam War protests of the late '60s and early '70s. Activists lost the moral high ground through overindulgence in hippie or punk lifestyles, unlike the disciplined, dignified civil rights protests of the '50s and '60s.
The Occupy protesters would be more effective if they took a cue from the other side of the political spectrum and moved their activism from the streets to the political process. A couple of years ago, the Tea Party movement began with public protests that, as with Occupy, included a wide variety of political causes but was unified around a general concern: for the Tea Party, that government and taxes need to be cut or at least restrained; for Occupy, that the richest Americans' need to stop getting their way in federal policies.
Conservatives funneled the Tea Party energy into party activism. They got involved with local Republican and Conservative committees, asserted a strong say in candidate selection and voted in force. They were pugnacious but nonviolent, and with amazing swiftness, they changed the national Republican Party from the inside out. As a result, a new class of Congress members and presidential candidates have steered the national conversation to a place that would have been unimaginable a few years ago.
Or instead of a political route, concerned citizens can join lobbying efforts to counter the corporate influence on politicians. Or lobby corporate executives with a strategic mixture of criticism and appeal to their better instincts. Respectful, well executed efforts can change cultures.
Liberals should be well aware of the value of organizing; that was the force that established labor unions and, thereby, fair wages and safe working conditions. The American left may still have a lot of organizational capacity, but it's been hard to find in the Occupy movement.
Therefore, we hope Occupy protesters celebrate this Thanksgiving by going home to their families and friends, and giving thanks that they live in a country where people can control their government. Some have called this movement the U.S.'s "Arab Spring," but this isn't Egypt, Syria or Yemen. Yes, our political process is largely dysfunctional, but it's still at least as good as anywhere else on the planet. Would Libyans have taken up arms against their dictator if they had a democracy like ours?
The growing gap between the rich and the poor, and the collusion of the rich and federal leaders, are concerns for most Americans, although opinions differ on what to do about the problems. Nothing's going to change until people switch from sounding the alarm to fighting the fire.
And it won't get put out by liberals or conservatives alone. It's going to require many kinds of Americans together: talking, working, compromising and ultimately governing.