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The New Grassroots

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After nearly two months of camping out in lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park, the Occupy Wall Street protesters were finally forced out on orders of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Police arrested more than 70 protesters in the dead of night recently as sanitation crews power-washed the park and cleared out all of the trash had accumulated there, including plenty of empty liquor bottles and drug paraphenalia. The Occupy protesters vowed to move back into the park, but the city is serious about enforcing a no-camping rule, and prohibiting the setting up of tents. Whether or not this will break the back of the protests in New York or merely ratchet them up to a whole new level remains to be seen, especially as the cold winter months set in.

Meanwhile, there is clip circulating on YouTube in which a group of protesters managed to attend an upscale breakfast meeting with Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who is currently facing a recall—his state’s version of a vote of no confidence. Right as Walker got up to speak to his supporters, the protesters began loudly shouting their criticisms of Walker in unison, off of a prepared script. Walker tried to talk over them, but to no avail and the room descended into a confused mess. While this makes good political theatre, is it really the best way to influence the voting public? Probably not. Things like this  tend to discredit opposition movements more than galvanize them.

Of greater impact are things like the Move Your Money movement, which started off as a single Facebook page encouraging people to close their accounts with large banks affiliated with Wall Street and moving their money to local banks or credit unions. So far, credit unions have picked up some $4.5 billion in new business off of this, which surely won’t bring the banking sector to its knees, but it does send an important message that protests and dollars can go hand in hand.

What I find interesting about all of this —the Occupiers, the hecklers, the money-movers—is that we’re seeing a kind of grassroots politics emerging, fostered by social media, which the life and health industry still does not really understand. Protests used to be like this throughout much of our nation’s history, only now it is being rediscovered by a generation that feels it has no other way of making its voice heard. Whether it is impotent rage or the beginning of something more, and whether you agree with the protesters or not, the life and health industry should keep a watchful eye on all of this.

Why? Because a lot of this protest is against more than just banking and investment shenanigans. It is about concentration of wealth and how money moves in this society. These are things the life industry is deeply invested in. And it will only take a single light bulb going off over the head of a protester to realize that there is a whole other group of companies they could be protesting, too. Better the industry understand the dynamics of this kind of protest now before it finds itself with hecklers in the lobby and occupiers setting up a tent city on their front lawn.


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