Tony Fels: 'Occupy' Movement Must Move Toward the Center

Roundup: Historians' Take

Tony Fels is an associate professor of history at the University of San Francisco.

The Occupy Wall Street movement has reached a tactical dead end. This much has been apparent for weeks. Remarkably, its fundamental message of seeking a more equitable distribution of wealth in America has not been lost, despite the extremism and eccentricity of the protests.

The message clearly resonates with a majority of Americans, as many polls have indicated. The problem is not that the movement needs a sharper focus or a more detailed list of demands. Social movements do not have to make policy, much less write legislation. They simply need to articulate the strength of feeling in the population for a change of course.

The more all-embracing its message, the better. But how can the latent sentiments that so many Americans feel today for a return to the principles of fairness and equality of opportunity be expressed in all their fullness?

An analogy might be found in the movement to end the war in Vietnam in the 1960s. Protests against the war were started by small minorities of radicals among students, religious figures and draft-age youth. But in 1967 an umbrella organization calling itself the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (nicknamed the "Mobe") formed to sponsor huge marches against the war in New York, Washington D.C., and other cities....

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