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Reflections on the year past: Inequality explodes into the public discourse

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If this past year -- marked by the Arab Spring and the fall arrival of the Occupy movement -- has taught us anything, it is that we never know when historic moments come. And when they do, that which seemed political impossible is suddenly in play.

Many of us found the explosion of the Occupy movement onto the local and North American scene particularly exciting. Notwithstanding some misgivings about some tactics, I feel immense gratitude towards what these mainly young activists have accomplished. We at the CCPA have been struggling to put the issues of inequality and corporate power into the spotlight for years. We first noted the phenomenon of the run-away rich in a report called The Rich and the Rest of Us a few years ago, and have been systematically highlighting the growing gap ever since. But the Occupy movement brought those issues to the forefront of public consciousness in just a few short weeks.

Occupy hit a nerve, and invigorated people. It broke through people's isolation, and told us we are not alone in our distress about these trends. Creatively and peacefully, Occupy has fundamentally shifted the political discourse.

Now we need to regroup and build on that was accomplished last fall. We need to show people that there are known policy solutions to reduce inequality, restore economic security, rise to the challenge of climate change, and reign in the power of the corporate sector in our democracy. No clear demands? Nonsense. The alternatives abound. And we at the CCPA have been assembling them for years. Now the task of us all is to popularize and promote them, and to push our political parties to give these bold ideas political expression. Together, we need to Occupy the media, Occupy the public debate, creatively Occupy real sites that highlight solutions, on the one hand, and the untenable influence of corporations on the other. And Occupy the ballot box. And we should have fun doing so.

And consider this hopeful prediction (with a hat tip to U.S. activist Van Jones): a remarkable demographic transition is underway, as the "Millennials" (the largest demographic group in history) come of age. This is a largely progressive cohort, managing more diversity with less strife than any before it. Many are nonplussed by the prevailing system. And many have a strong environmental orientation. The point is this -- arguably the days of right-wing governments who refuse to act on climate change and inequality may well be numbered. Will this younger demographic (who we saw starting to flex their muscle in the Orange Wave during last spring's federal election) really abide these guys? Or, over the next 10 years, will they come into their own politically just as the reality of climate change is unavoidable (a powerful alignment), and be ready for the new ideas groups like the CCPA must have at hand.

Our task is to prepare for those tipping points. To create political-cultural space. To lay the groundwork. To seed the public discourse with bold ideas, in anticipation of those moments -- and they are coming -- when the seemingly impossible is suddenly inescapable.

This article was first posted on Policy Note.

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