The Occupy movement's three essential messages

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Occupy Toronto, day 26. Photo: John Bonnar

To me the most amazing aspect of the "Occupation" movement is its internationalism. For in an ever-shrinking world, it makes perfect sense for citizens around the world -- in fact in over 2,000 communities around the globe -- to join in common cause.

An international day of action has been called. Organizers have chosen Friday Nov. 11, 2011 (11.11.11) for an event called "Occupy the streets. Occupy the world."

So far the occupation movement is largely a success. Despite several unprovoked attacks by the authorities, it has been almost entirely peaceful. And it is the first permanent, real-time global movement, a direct result of the internet linking citizens to citizens.

Rush Limbaugh and his comfortable clones dismiss the activists as idiots, but at least those activists got up on their hind legs and actually did something. They connected, they learned, they organized, they spoke out, and they've done it on a global scale.

But where to go from here? The protesters themselves are having endless discussions about this, but the thousands of occupations are each tackling this question separately, so it seems unlikely they will be able to agree on common solutions or tactics anytime soon.

They're also hobbled by a problem that is endemic to progressive groups; the tendency to preach to the converted. Moreover, they often do so in rather specialized politically correct language, which by its very nature excludes outsiders from the conversation.

While it may be edifying to hang with like-minded people, to succeed the movement simply has to grow beyond the usual suspects. It has to speak meaningfully to the great bulk of people and bring them onside. In particular the middle classes across the Western world need to be convinced that their interests correspond with the Occupy movement.

That is not easy at the best of times. But now, as the middle classes shrink, many will be cleaving to the voices that are singing that old "riches beckon" tune, or at least are promising the maintenance of the status quo. This is a promise they can't keep, but its siren call is still making the majority regard activists as "the other," and vote against their own interests.

So, for the movement, clear communications is key to victory. This has been tough to accomplish because a visit to any Occupy encampment shows a multitude of causes being advocated. It doesn't take a genius to know the reason there are a myriad of causes is that when society prioritizes economic interests above all, many problems -- unrelenting poverty, cultural decay, environmental devastation -- spring up.

But while there are many different issues facing the world, it is up to progressives to transform this cacophony of catastrophes into something intelligible and compelling.

So here is a humble suggestion as to how the movement can clarify its message. With many dedicated advocates demanding that their particular cause remain on the agenda, this is not easy. But a process of categorization can do the trick.

Let's think about the nature of these issues. While there may be a rainbow of causes on display, for the most part they can simply be categorized into three broad streams.

First, the issue upon which absolutely everything else depends: environmental protection. If the Earth's environment changes to the point where human civilization can no longer be supported, well, all other issues simply cease to matter. So advocates for climate change awareness, against species extinction and for food and water security can all rally under this banner.

Second, the cause that really sparked demonstrations from Tunis to Toronto: the economy. Campaigners for the Robin Hood tax, for stricter finance industry regulation, and for organized labour should be able to agree that basic economic reforms are the way out of the current financial crisis.

And third, what citizens everywhere need to effectively tackle these and other issues: more democracy. People working for electoral reform, freedom of information and anti-corruption fighters would surely agree that democratic reform is absolutely necessary for citizens to be able to improve the balance of power in the world.

These three simple points, environment, economic reform and democracy cover almost every other issue dear to the hearts of progressives. They are also simple and media friendly. And bloody hard to argue against.

Progressives are getting together globally -- and finding strength in numbers. The global elite's catastrophic mismanagement of the economy and short-sighted destruction of the only environment human beings have has finally awakened a sleeping giant.

Considering the success of the reactionary opposition of simplifying ideas into easily digestible sound bites, progressives must speak clearly to the rest of humanity. The Occupy movement has the potential to not just change the world, but to save it. The lives of millions of people, even human culture itself hangs in the balance. The importance of sending clear messages and popularizing the movement beyond its progressive base cannot be overstated.

Nick Van der Graaf is a writer and activist living in Toronto.

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