This Op-Ed originally ran in AP 285. To buy a copy, head here.

Pittsburgh punks Anti-Flag have never been ones to hold their tongues on hot-button socio-political issues. They frequently put their money where their mouths are, too: The band performed for members of the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York City’s Zuccotti Park last October. Frontman Justin Sane explains why the Occupy movement is so important, and why it’s not going away any time soon.

“As long as the world shall last, there will be wrongs. And if no man objected and no man rebelled, those wrongs would last forever.” Clarence Darrow’s words ring true in light of Occupy Wall Street. It is easy for the media and political pundits to focus on what the movement is lacking, but the effects of Occupy Wall Street on America can already be seen. In four months—without a designated leader, paid staff or large sums of money—the movement has grown to such enormous proportions, it cannot be ignored. It has changed the way people in this country function, from the way we speak and think to the rights we demand, and how we understand ourselves.

Occupy Wall Street has given the 99 percent a voice. It has tapped the growing sense among ordinary Americans that something is terribly wrong in our country. It explains why so many hard workers have seen their hopes and dreams slip away, and laid waste to the myth that laziness or lack of intelligence is why the vast majority of Americans struggle to get by. It has revealed a political and economic system that systematically favors the rich in good times, bails them out in hard times and uses the rest of us as economic cannon fodder.

The fact that the Occupy movement has had a major impact on the people of this country has not been lost on politicians who now fear being seen as part of the problem, as part of the one percent. Note Mitt Romney’s terror at having to reveal his personal wealth and the low percentage of taxes he pays. Further note how the debate regarding what is an acceptable way to grow rich has been propelled into unlikely venues such as the Republican presidential race, where candidates denounce unfettered laissez-faire capitalism, an economic model which only a short time ago they championed. Naomi Klein, award-winning journalist and author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise Of Disaster Capitalism, remarked at a forum on Occupy Wall Street that the movement has created a shift in the political climate in the United States which she believes made it possible for the environmental movement to pressure the White House to stop the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline.

Even in the face of the violent tools of the Corporatocracy—the constant threat of unjustified and brutal police actions—Occupy Wall Street protestors refuse to go away or be silenced. They practice nonviolence, conduct teach-ins and are inclusive of all creeds and colors. They find creative ways to use social media, practice environmental sustainability, and practice and teach direct democracy by conducting all-inclusive general assembles in cities all over the world. Occupy Wall Street is setting a standard for the rest of the world to follow, and it has forced the powers-that-be to take into account the concerns of ordinary people, something that has been lacking in American politics for a very long time. And this is only the beginning.

Cynical critics try to marginalize the Occupy movement; they belittle its ability to make a difference and its supposed lack of goals and demands. However, I suggest you remember two things. First, Occupy Wall Street already has made a significant difference. Before the movement, the issues of wealth concentration and income disparity were radioactive in mainstream political and social discourse, but that has changed. Second, a now-well-known social agitator and advocate for the poor started small, too. He had only 12 disciples. Two-thousand years later, there are millions who subscribe to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, teachings that are squarely on the side of the Occupy movement.

The great historian Howard Zinn said it best: “The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.” Occupy Wall Street finds its most overwhelming victory in the present. We can speculate about how the future will be changed by the Occupy movement, and it surely will, but the real story is now. The real story is ordinary Americans from all walks of life huddled together in the snow and rain in more numbers than bought-off politicians would have credited just a few months ago. The real story is people fighting today for their future and taking their destinies into their own hands. Ordinary Americans have realized they can fix what is wrong in our country, they can speak out and act, they can put the feet of corrupt politicians and policy makers in Washington to the fire. They have seen the power of their actions, their ability to change the social and political discourse, and they understand that a united Occupy voice can never be suppressed.

We are aware, we are inspired, and we are united. We are going to fight until we live in a country and a world that works for everyone, not just the one percent. We know what we want, and we will not be silenced.

“Occupy Wall Street has given the 99 percent a voice. It has tapped the growing sense among ordinary Americans that something is terribly wrong in our country.”

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