By one measure at least, the movement that began with Occupy Wall Street is already bigger than the tea party ever was.
According to a report in the Washington Post, Occupy rallies were held in more than 900 cities around the country and across the globe last weekend. The tea party is big, but it is not known to have had an impact in Barcelona, London, Tokyo, Johannesburg, Brussels, Munich, Rome, Sydney, Manila, Lisbon, Paris and Zurich.
Granted, that observation is deceptive in one sense: It quantifies breadth, but not depth. That is to say, while the Occupy movement has spread broadly, there is as yet little evidence of its ability to seize political power and use it to execute the movement's agenda. Say what you will about the tea party -- a straight line if ever there was one -- but give it credit for moving quickly to translate its angst into political capital with which it impacted the 2010 midterms and presidential politics to this very day.
The Occupy movement, by contrast, remains what several people have called it: a primal scream.
Primal screams have their purpose. They command attention. But they do not, of themselves, bring change.
Yes, that criticism is premature. The Occupy movement is only about a month old. It is a new colt, still wobbly on its legs, yet some of us want it to already be Seabiscuit.
It is, however, difficult to escape a certain impatience when you consider that the corporate greed and exploitation the movement exists to oppose have gone unquestioned and unchallenged for an unconscionably long time. There is something grotesque about the idea that 1 percent of the nation controls more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined.
The nation -- the world itself, to judge from last weekend -- needs this uprising, this line in the sand, this visceral reminder of the power of the people. We need this to be something.
For that to happen, the Occupy movement will have to avoid the incoherence and violence of the World Trade Organization protests. Nor can it afford to believe the sort of smug babblespeak that author and "media theorist" Douglas Rushkoff offered in a recent opinion piece for CNN.com.
Too many of us, he opined, are attempting to understand a 21st century movement with 20th century minds. This is not "a traditional protest," he wrote, "which identifies the enemy and fights for a particular solution." Rather, it is "a new collectivism," that is "less about victory than sustainability." Actually, that's precisely what it cannot afford to be.
One hopes the movement's organizers understand that Occupy Wall Street has created a moment, a fragment of time and potentiality in which it may be possible to make real, fundamental, systemic change. But that moment will be lost if the movement contents itself with navel gazing and primal screaming, with saying, "Look at me, aren't I wonderful and new." That would be a waste of a rare opportunity. The Occupy movement commands the attention of the entire world. When you have all eyes upon you, your next move should be obvious.