I just passed by some OWS protesters. Many progressives—me, for instance—worry that OWS will promote destructive alienation from the hard and sustained work of conventional politics. If a sizeable chunk of progressive youth are passive in 2012, that is the functional equivalent of a Nader candidacy.

The best way to prevent this is to find an aspect of conventional politics that can genuinely excite and move these protesters into positive action that serves their own values and long-term goals. OFA emails won’t accomplish that. Perhaps earnest substantive emails about health reform should do that—given the Affordable Care Act’s impact on millions of low-income people. I don’t think this is so promising, either.

Ari Berman’s fantastic reporting describes Republican efforts across the country to establish subtle (or not-so-subtle) roadblocks to hinder voting among minorities, poor people, ex-felons, and the young. The GOP’s flimsy justifications are based on mythical accounts of voter fraud. Fortunately for the purposes of analytic clarity, no one outside the Wall Street Journal editorial page really takes that argument seriously. This is an obvious effort to turn the 2012 electorate into an older and whiter group that resembles the 2010 electorate rather than the 2008 electorate that brought Barack Obama to the White House.

Democrats need to hammer a simple message: It’s un-American for partisans to hinder political opponents’ efforts to vote. Yet this issue might not resonate with many independent voters. The typical suburban independent voter might think: Who doesn’t have a photo-id, anyway? Democrats and those affected will be angered, but Republicans will still benefit in close battleground states.

Occupy Wall Street organizers: I believe you should resonate with this issue. GOP officials are trying to disenfranchise people like you: college students with university IDs not gun permits, young people and minority urban residents who don’t drive, and so on.

Wherever you live, learn the voter registration and ID rules, and get to work registering people and ensuring that they have the proper ID cards and whatever to actually vote. Bring the drum sets. You may need a hard surface to fill out the proper forms.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is the Helen Ross Professor at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago.