Lawrence Lessig's call for state-based activism on behalf of a Constitutional Convention could provide the uprooted movement with a political project for winter
Observers and participants alike have interpreted the Occupy Wall Street movement as expressions of frustration with persistently high unemployment and underemployment, with the appearance of growing income disparity in the United States, and with the sense that the richest among us are disproportionately responsible for the current crisis. But the fundamental problem, you could argue, is that we have simply not had meaningful financial reform in response to the crisis. The Dodd-Frank Bill that was passed last summer was better than nothing, but it did not do what needed to be done to fix the problems that caused the current crisis: We haven't punished anyone. We haven't broken up banks to prevent them from being "too big to fail" in the future. The banking system that's brought us the current crisis remains in power, barely chastened. "Why?" ask the Occupy Wall Street protesters.
Lawrence Lessig has an answer. In his new book, Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress -- and a Plan to Stop It, he spends 20 pages reviewing the the 30 years of deregulation that led up to the financial crisis and outlining our present circumstances. In fact, this book, published just before Occupy Wall Street began, is perfectly positioned to become the movement's handbook. While few protesters will need convincing that the government is corrupted by money, the book lays out the case in a such a comprehensive and persuasive manner -- and proposes such specific and radical solutions -- that it seems tailor-made for the Occupy movement. And it's ambitious proposal for state-based activism on behalf of a Constitutional Convention could provide the movement with a next organizing step as it nears its two-month anniversary Thursday -- and faces such questions as how to ride out the winter and how to respond to police crackdowns.
Lessig, director of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics at Harvard University and a professor at Harvard Law School, spent 10 years fighting to reform the nation's copyright laws. The effort produced a half-dozen books, led to the creation of the Creative Commons licensing system and a case before the Supreme Court, which ultimately failed. Rather than dissuading him, Lessig concluded four years ago that this failure perfectly situated him to take on an infinitely harder challenge -- the reform of Congress itself. The shift in focus led him to leave Stanford University and relocate his family to the east coast to teach at Harvard in 2008, where he began the research and activity that gave rise to his latest book.