Posts tagged ‘Occupy Wall Street’
As we approach the four-month anniversary of the senseless slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary School, there is much talk in the media about our tone-deaf Congress ignoring the 90% of the country that wants stricter background checks on gun buyers. Indeed, we hear lots of statistics pointing to a majority of Americans favoring restrictions on type of guns sold, and size of ammunition clips. The fault my friends is not in Congress but in ourselves.
When I was a kid, the evening news was full of coverage of protesters marching outside the White House over the Vietnam War. Who’s marching now? There are those who say the most effective thing a citizen can do is call his Congressman or Senator. I don’t buy it. Politicians respond to two stimuli: money and discomfort. Don’t get me wrong. I am not calling for violence. I’m calling for good old civil disobedience. If you’re tired of hearing about dead kids, whether it’s in the cushy CT suburbs or the inner city of Chicago, chain yourself to the nearest immovable object outside Congress and stay there. Do it until the press comes to cover it. Do it until the police arrest you, again with the TV cameras watching. The notion that you can drown out the NRA’s money with a phone call to your representative is pure nonsense.
I might be accused of being the pot calling the kettle black. I’ve never protested in my life and probably never will. It’s just not where my abilities and talents are best invested. However, I associate myself with the liberal cause because I support those who DO have it in them to protest for change.
Our current predicament only highlights what nonsense Occupy Wall Street was. Yes I’m doing an about-face on that topic because a bunch of liberals camped out in a NYC park to protest “unfairness”. We’re great about belly aching about a concept but when it comes to taking decisive action on a specific topic like dead kids, nobody is camping out anywhere.
Getting back to the Vietnam war for a moment — back then we didn’t employ the cowardly combat method of sending remote control planes to bomb our enemies into kingdom come. Now, we kill enemy and innocent alike with no risk to our own men. Now we drop a bomb on a teenager because he had the misfortune of having a traitor for a father. Where are the protesters? When Senator Rand Paul recently asked the White House whether they felt emboldened to drone-attack American citizens on American soil, he got a hypothetical yes from Attorney General Eric Holder. Only after Paul pulled off the grand old tradition of a true stand-up filibuster did the White House back off a bit. And what did we hear in the media? Nothing to see here because Obama is a nice guy who would never abuse such powers. Fortunately there were those who, like Senator Paul, pointed out that we must control the office, not the man. Obama could go crazy. Obama’s successor could be a nut job. When you enable the office, you give powers to the man holding that office.
What does it say about the liberal cause that it took a Republican, Rand Paul, to take serious issue with our drone policy?
Maybe I’m being too hard on Liberals? Perhaps the Internet has become a proxy for real protest? Whereas the Arab Spring was punctuated by social media being a driving force for communication AND organization, here in the States, we “like” some post on Facebook and think that we have made a difference. Have we been lulled into thinking electronic protest can match the power of the NRA’s money or the strength of the military industrial complex?
Have we become too cute and clever by half? Last night Dana Milbank of the Washington Post wrote about the changing face of protest. He cited an “eat-in” outside the FDA where protesters brought and consumed a huge vat of soup to protest the FDA not demanding labeling of GMO’s in foods. Milbank argues that these folks are opting for persuasion over confrontation. I am left scratching my head. How effective is quaint persuasion with politicians whose pockets are lined with money from the food manufacturers? How effective is gun control “persuasion” with politicians whose pockets are lined with gun money?
In the 1960’s the people pushed the President. In 2013, the President is forced to push the people. Obama has to give speeches imploring citizens to make their preferences known on the gun issue. Why do we need imploring? Where is our passion? Where are our ethics? Where is our shame?
Photo by Brigadier Lance Mans, Deputy Director, NATO Special Operations Coordination Centre [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Occupy [fill in the blank] Movement has gotten some (deservedly) bad press and has temporarily faded from view. Critics pointed at the crudeness (and sometimes criminality) of the crowds. There were cries of no real message, no action plans, just slackers camping out instead of punching into work.
This observation is not particularly profound but if Occupy never has any future impact whatsoever, they have one lasting legacy. Were it not for Occupy, we would not be talking about wealth inequality in such a concise and powerful way — the 99% vs the 1%.
Almost as if a Hollywood script were being followed, who has the Republican party cast in the role of Presidential nominee? After his triple crown victory in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Wisconsin, it is quite clear that Willard “Mitt” Romney will be Barack Obama’s opponent this coming Autumn. Mitt thinks a few hundred thousand dollars is chump change for speaking fees. Mitt starts the betting at ten thousand dollars. Mitt casually brags that his wife drives two Cadillacs. Mitt has a lobbyist on the payroll to help him get a permit to renovate his California mansion to accommodate an elevator for his cars.
In short, Mitt is the walking poster boy of the 1%. Let’s be clear. There is no inherent shame in being wealthy. I believe Mitt worked for just about every dime he has. It’s a matter of how you carry that wealth. Mitt seems to carry it totally oblivious to the fact that most people don’t share his experience. It is not so much what has gone into Mitt’s pockets but what comes out of his mouth that defines him.
While the Occupy movement never endorsed Barack Obama or his policies, you have to think they are tailor-made for him this year. They came along just in time to frame the debate in a way that makes some forget about Obama’s mistakes. By changing the language we use concerning wealth inequality, Occupy has made it virtually impossible for Mitt Romney to be elected President of the United States. That is the ultimate political impact even if that was not their original intent.
One of my more popular posts over the past few years concerned a Dr. Seuss fable called The Sneetches. You can read the post to get the details of the fable but what’s important here is that Dr. Seuss’ story informed my perception of human nature. As I wrote back then:
This simple tale has always encapsulated for me a philosophy about the human condition. Take any set of humans, no matter how seemingly similar, and they will find a means to discriminate among each other and sow the seeds of discord. It happens between whites and blacks … it happens between dark-skinned blacks and light-skinned blacks, and so on. Each time you think you’ve got a group of people who are more similar than different, they discover a way to find a meaningless difference about which to segregate.
And so it goes with the Occupy Wall Street crowd in Zuccotti Park in New York City prior to their recent eviction. Jon Stewart, sadly one of the best sources of dead-on political commentary and news considering his show is a comedy, documented the mind-blowing schism that had occurred among the OWS protesters.
Yes, the one world, fairness for all movement had split along … wait for it … economic lines. In the words of one protester there was the aristocratic bunch and the ghetto bunch. So once again my Sneetches philosophy of human nature was confirmed. The rank hypocrisy implicit in this schism was on further display when one protester explained to Daily Show “correspondent” Samantha Bee that everyone should have an iPad, just not HIS iPad. Sharing was paramount so long as it wasn’t that particular protester who had to do the sharing.
It was easy at first for folks like me who voted for hope and change in 2008 to become enamored with the OWS movement. The movement in its first few weeks highlighted the inequity of our current system and put a magnifying glass over the criminal bankers who have yet to pay for their crimes. But you can shine a light on a problem for just so long before it becomes as boring as a test pattern. Without moving to the next stage of suggesting viable solutions, the stagnant atmosphere that develops invites all of our worst human tendencies to come to the fore. Hence, the crime rate within the occupation had increased, the friction with police had increased and as this Daily Show video shows, unity within the organization itself had decreased. In fact, one could argue there never was organization despite all the “general assemblies”.
OWS is becoming the exception that proves the rule there is strength in numbers. As OWS protests have spread across the country, so has increasing discord. When you add local law enforcement the potential for explosive situations multiplies. The movement is devolving into one huge temper tantrum.
Still, like Linus in his pumpkin patch, I always thought I could at least count on sincerity winning the day within OWS. Alas, Jon Stewart has taught me otherwise. The OWS protesters cannot see past the nose on their own face any better than the rest of us. What I thought was a sincere rebirth of 1960’s idealism in the 21st century has turned out to be just another bunch of Sneetches.
Flashback to early 2009. Barack Obama had barely finished the Presidential oath of office before folks started gathering in the public square with teabags hanging from their hats. They were fed up and angry. Among their gripes: over-taxation, bailouts being given to banks and auto companies, and later, the “unauthorized takeover” of health care by the federal government. The Fed was becoming too powerful and these folks who embodied the fledgling Tea Party movement wanted to go back to the fundamentals of the Founding Fathers.
As liberals looked on, a few red flags arose. First, the movement seemed triggered by the election of Barack Obama. At least two major gripes of the movement (exploding deficit and TARP) occurred during the Bush administration but where were they then? Second, there seemed to be precious few people of color at the Tea Party rallies. Third, some of the signs carried at these rallies were outright offensive to anyone of even somewhat thick skin (a sign calling Obama a “lyin’ African”, another with Obama with a bone through his nose like a witch-doctor.) Fourth, for reasons never adequately explained some folks chose to bring their guns to the rallies. Those that didn’t, carried signs saying “We came unarmed …. this time.” Last but not least, before you could say “Patrick Henry”, several powerful players, from Fox News to Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks had attached themselves to the movement.
These factors led many liberals, including me, to declare the Tea Party destructive, dangerous and racist. Sometimes the shoe needs to be on the other foot to realize how wrong you are. I was wrong. Were all the factors I just listed manufactured? Absolutely not. Were they troubling? Damn right they were. But at the core of the Tea Party was something that every American should cherish: freedom of speech and the right of the citizenry to assemble and air their grievances. The great preponderance of Tea Party activists wanted to save a country clearly in trouble. The fact that powerful forces attempted to co-opt the movement was not the fault of the Tea Party members. In fact, when Michele Bachmann kick-started her Tea Party caucus in the House of Representatives, I distinctly remember some TPM members pushing back lest folks start to think Bachmann was “leading the cause”.
Fast forward to Autumn, 2011. A bunch of mostly young folks stage a sit-in of sorts. They camp out in downtown Manhattan and name their gathering “Occupy Wall Street”. Like the Tea Party protesters before them, they are angry that bankers got bailed out and then got huge bonuses, continuing the abuses that precipitated the bailouts. Unlike the Tea Party, they are presently more angry at the bankers who went unpunished, than at the government that bailed them out and let them off the hook. Even so, the OWS crowd recognizes that government has not helped.
Both the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street are fighting a class struggle. The Tea Party’s attitude, best enunciated in the now famous rant by CNBC’s Rick Santelli, is that irresponsible Americans were looking for assistance at the hard-working middle class’s expense. OWS, on the other hand contends that it is inherently unfair that 1% of Americans control most of the country’s wealth while the remaining 99% struggle to keep their jobs and homes.
What do we see now from conservatives? We see the same reaction that I had back in 2009. The OWS crowd are unkempt, lazy communists and anarchists. They need to get a job. They only want to destroy. They have no focus. They are, according to Eric Cantor, a House Representative from Virginia, a mob. One of my fellow WordPress bloggers, Blackiswhite, Imperial Consigliere posted the most offensive photo he could find of an OWS protester getting ready to defecate on a police car. Reminded me of every liberal who posted pictures of every offensive Tea Party sign we could get our hands on.
As I read the conservative criticisms of Occupy Wall Street (which has spread to Occupy Boston, Occupy Atlanta, Occupy D.C.) I’m angered and ultimately saddened by the myopic view of the critics. But then I consider how I might have no one to blame but myself. It was much easier for me to impugn the motives of the Tea Party than to consider that some, if not most of them, were exercising the time-honored American tradition of protest to right perceived wrongs.
Perhaps I’m letting myself off the hook but I think I suffer from a disease common to most Americans. Those protesters whose message resonates with us are patriots and heroes. Those with whom we don’t empathize are traitors, bigots and criminals. We give lip service to freedom of speech and making our voices heard when our government ignores us. But as soon as a group of people actually exercise this prerogative in the public square, we condemn them if it looks like they’re going to upset our world order.
The simple truth is that the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street crowd share a fundamental common complaint. They are both fed up with a society that ignores their voice and is headed in a direction that will only make matters worse for them. Those who insist that the OWS movement is a front to reelect Barack Obama just don’t get it. They’re not happy with Obama either. They’re not happy with our government. They choose to take their fight to the site that most symbolizes the problem, a corporate environment run amok and in control of our government. Just because they are occupying Wall Street doesn’t mean they don’t want governmental change. The notion that marching in front of the Federal Reserve building is a prerequisite to expressing their dissatisfaction is ridiculous.
The Tea Party’s voice eventually was heard as evidenced by the number of Congressmen and Senators carrying their torch (albeit somewhat disingenuously since they still have big business and big money in their pocket). The OWS movement is in its infancy. If it lasts and matures, it will not manifest itself in the overthrow of our government (as some on the right fear) but will result in legislators who carry their torch.
If we could get past the hypocrisy at the core of the American psyche, we would see that we all ultimately want the same thing. We want a government that promotes equal opportunity for all in an environment where folks are encouraged to play fair and not rewarded for taking advantage. One notable thing about the OWS movement has been its inclusiveness, almost to a fault. Yes, there are anarchists. There are socialists. There are also plain old vanilla liberals. No doubt a smattering of moderates. What I’d really like to see now is a couple of Tea Party Patriots join the crowd and see what they have in common.
We can’t change our lot if we don’t let others speak and we don’t listen to their concerns. The OWS movement should be a wake up call to every liberal who dismissed the Tea Party out of hand. In the words of Lincoln, a house divided against itself cannot stand. Now is the time for us to unite, raise our voices and be heard so that our country can change course and avoid what appears in our darkest days to be an inevitable decline.
Photo credit: Photo via Wikipedia