As the Occupy Wall Street protests stretch into their fourth week, an initially inattentive media is asking just what the demonstrators hope to accomplish.

The movement hasn’t exactly provided an answer.

“It doesn’t matter what you’re protesting,” The New York Times reported one leader saying. “Just protest.”
It does matter what they’re protesting, though. It matters a lot.

Occupy Wall Street is acting as a voice for long-simmering anguish. Unless they want it to end there, it isn’t enough to “just protest.” They need to organize. They need to mobilize. They need to express a set of ideas and get candidates for political office behind them. They need to do this by next year’s elections.

The protesters could effect real political change, as the Tea Party has, but only if they can show the world what they stand for.

They should begin by committing to these beliefs:

•That all citizens are entitled to affordable, quality health care.
•That all qualified individuals are entitled to a free or heavily subsidized higher education.
•That our elderly, whom we rightly respect and cherish, deserve an ample pension in their golden years.
•That a free market is essential to fostering innovation but that an unfettered free market threatens the central tenets of democracy.
•That the profit motive is a great thing but should be divorced from such human rights as education, health care and due process.
•That economic opportunity incurs economic responsibility, and that those who have benefited the most from a liberal economic system are obliged to give the most back.
•That social services confer economic liberty upon citizens by freeing them from the threat of sudden catastrophe and that higher taxes are an acceptable cost for the attainment of that liberty.
•That America is a faith of humanity that embraces all colors, genders, orientations and ages equally.
•That we have a crucial duty to care for the environment in which we live.
•That in order to protect our planet and to avert economic disaster when fossil fuels run out, we must make alternative energy a crux of our economic policies right now.
•That the current cry for “small government” amounts to nothing less than the abdication by the state of its fundamental responsibilities.
•That government can and should be a force for good.
•That freedom from religion is just as important as freedom of religion.
•That theological beliefs are unacceptable influences in the formulation of policy.
•That privatized prisons by their very nature incentivize conviction and lead to skewed justice.
•That rehabilitation must be favored over incarceration wherever possible.
•That the undeniable rights enjoyed by corporations in no way give them equal standing with people.
•That all workers are entitled to a living wage.
•That all workers have an unassailable right to unionize.
•That we will never accept, as our Tea Party contemporaries have stated they would, leaving the uninsured, or anyone else, to die in the streets.
•That cruelty as a national ideology is doomed to failure.
•That the sanctity of the citizen and the citizen’s well-being is paramount.

•That our decisions must always be governed by compassion and a profound caring for our fellow man.
The question is one of values. We must mold ourselves into a nation that no longer values vague notions of economic freedom above the concrete reality of economic well-being. We must be a nation that no longer values the bottom line above the health of its citizens. We must be a nation that no longer accords multinational corporations the same rights, by force of law, that it accords to living, breathing people. We must be a nation in which moralistic notions of “personal responsibility,” however strongly held, become moot at the sight of a fellow human being in need. We must be a nation in which dissent is applauded, not beaten down with pepper spray and batons.

The building blocks for a real (and desperately needed) reform movement are there. Certainly the raw emotion is there, and that’s a good start. It’s only a start, though. In figuring out why, protesters should look to the Tea Party, which, while instructive of the political muscle to be had from fury, is also instructive of that fury’s limits. The Tea Party remains a major force in American politics today not because its members were angry but because its driving pathos was funneled into a defined political agenda on whose precepts a slate of candidates mobilized, vigorously campaigned and eventually elected into office. The Tea Party seeks to upset the system by acting from within it. Occupy Wall Street should take note.

If it fails to do that, it will fail to matter at all.