"Agenda? We don't need no stinking agenda!"
That, or something like it, is what those involved in the Occupy Wall Street rallies can shout back at critics who say they need to hurry up and choose leaders and develop a coherent mission statement. For the time being, at least, the occupiers should be content to simply rely on their common grievances to carry them forward until they can unite behind specific goals.
And that, in fact, appears to be what they have decided to do. While occupiers in Manhattan and in other cities around the nation and the world reportedly do hold formal sessions to discuss issues and what to do next, they have adamantly refused to anoint leaders, embrace one political party or another, or develop a list of objectives.
That can come later. For now, they can focus on clearly drawing the distinction between themselves - the 99 percent - and the others - the 1 percent who control a huge percentage of the nation's wealth.
And "we're the 99 percent" is a pretty good slogan. Certainly nothing exclusive about it.
Those who are urging the Occupy Wall Street groups to get specific right away need to remember that most protest movements don't evolve overnight. And even after they do, they often provide a very large umbrella for some diverse philosophies.
Before the civil rights movement got organized, it consisted largely of a few courageous individuals and groups willing to stand up to Jim Crow in cities across the South. But by the late '60s, the movement comprised not only Martin Luther King's non-violent Southern Christian Leadership Conference but also the more militant Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, led by Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown, and the revolutionary Black Panthers.
The antiwar movement of the same period was equally diverse, ranging from the Berrigan brothers to the Weather Underground. The different antiwar groups had different agendas; the only thing that united them was their opposition to the Vietnam War.
And we shouldn't forget that the tea party didn't spring fully formed from some libertarian immaculate conception. For a long time, the tea party essentially was little more than a few bumper stickers strung together: "We want our country back and keep your government hands off my Medicare!"
It now is clear that the tea party is made up almost entirely of disgruntled white Southern conservatives. The tea party has not thrived in the North or West.
It is likely that, when we scratch beneath the surface of the Occupy Wall Street protests, we'll find disaffected Democrats and unaffiliated liberals who supported Barack Obama in 2008.
Obama, no doubt, would love to co-opt the occupiers much as the Republican establishment has exploited the passion of the tea party. In both cases, however, the party regulars need to be cautious about reaping the whirlwind.
Short of developing a specific agenda, the Occupy Wall Street protesters might want to begin to loosely define their movement before opponents do it for them. That shouldn't be hard: Just saying they are in favor of economic justice would be a start.
The tea partiers have defined themselves as being against big government, against raising taxes and in favor of individual liberty. In contrast, the occupiers could define themselves as favoring a fairer tax system, a government that provides for our common needs and helps protect all citizens, especially the most vulnerable, and the responsibility of people to care for one another, their communities and the planet we all share.
The tea partiers say we shouldn't punish people who work hard and get rich. The occupiers might counter that nobody gets rich solely by his own labors; we all benefit from what government provides, and the rich need to give something back.
The occupiers also might want to emphasize early that no group has an exclusive patent on patriotism. We are capable of loving our country in different ways and, sometimes, for different reasons. The Occupy Wall Street movement should embrace patriotism as fervently as the tea party.
That said, this new movement could fizzle out in a matter of weeks. A year or two from now it might be little more than a "Jeopardy" question.
Then again, the occupiers might have tapped into a strong vein of simmering discontent about the increasingly disproportionate distribution of wealth and the greed that triggered the 2008 economic collapse. If they really are the 99 percent, that could be a powerful political force.
ABOUT THE WRITER
James Werrell is opinion page editor for the Rock Hill Herald. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.