and we were tired of being mild
we were so tired of being mild
and we were tired…
i know we’re going to meet some day
in the crumbled financial institutions of this land
-Andrew Bird, ‘Tables and Chairs’
It’s been a month since a small group of activists staked a claim in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park and demanded justice, change, and (for all intents and purposes) an end to corporate greed.
The group has since grown into thousands in New York, with hundreds more protests popping up across the country — in large cities and small towns, in the North and the South and the West and the Midwest. Supporting movements have sprung to life in neighbouring countries and, really, anywhere that freedom of speech and political equality are valued by the citizenry at-large.
Old and young, black and white, rich (yes, even some wealthy folks) and poor, employed and not, married and not, straight and gay, left and right — Americans of all stripes have come together to protest the outrageousness of a political system that is rigged in favour of corporate interests that can buy any politician and any legal outcome that they like.
This is, of course, the world we find ourselves in: banks, for the most part, control the levers of power in society. They own the government in two ways: first, they finance the campaigns of friendly candidates and drown out the voices and candidates of anyone who dares to challenge their fiefdom. Second, they stock the government with their former (and future) employees.
Hmm…where have we seen this merger of corporate and government systems before? In what sort of system of government do we see a unified public government with private, corporate benefits? Oh, that’s right: Fascist, Nazi Germany.
I suppose it is considered impolite to call the fascists “fascist”, but hey — if the jackboot fits, right? They’ve even developed their own little SS Trooper brigade, bribing and utilising the New York Police Department as their own personal protection squad. God’s best crusading mercenaries, funded by tax dollars while beating the shit out of taxpayers exercising their Constitutional rights.
Orwell would have a Viagra-induced stroke if he were still alive.
If this were a chess match, I think we could safely say that the protesters, and therefore all of America, will win. They’re outnumbered 99 per cent to 1 per cent, and the 1 per cent seems incapable of learning from history, either recent (Arab Spring), a few decades old (Mr. and Mrs. Ceausescu versus bullets) or a few centuries ago (guillotines).
They seem to think that they can ride out this storm, infiltrate the movement, discredit it in the media, and either bribe or kill off our leaders. Well, the plan that worked so well to co-opt previous movements (see also: the 1960s) won’t work today. Unleashing the CIA and the FBI to spy on and possibly murder Americans (remember, it’s legal now — no Due Process needed if the government puts you on its danger list) isn’t going to work.
The beauty of this movement is there is no leadership structure. There is no individual whose charisma and singular will carries the movement forward through the day-by-day work of enacting change in a system unwilling to change. There is no one leader or group of leaders to arrest and end this occupation. There is no Martin Luther King, jr to shoot. There is no Malcolm X to shoot. There is no JFK or RFK to shoot. There is no easy way out for the government, like there was in the 1960s.
What are they going to do, arrest us all? Kill us all? Every time the police make arrests, the protest movement grows. Every time they pepper-spray protesters, every time they charge up their tasers and shine up their nightsticks, the movement grows. Call it the Cheney corollary: Shoot a Muslim defending his family and three more, outraged by the shooting, take his place. Arrest a citizen exercising his rights and three hundred more take his place.
You can tell from the disjointed actions that the government has no idea what to do next. It’s as if they thought that, after the bailouts, we would welcome the bankers with open arms as our liberators. Republicans want to condemn the protests, but really can’t go too harshly in their criticisms: not even the 2011 GOP wants to be the party of Wall Street.
Democrats are eager to co-opt the movement and make it their own. It makes sense politically. And third parties (which the movement is, at least in its infancy) are always co-opted by one of the major parties. That’s how the American system works third-party or protest movement ideas into law. It’s what happened to the socialist ideas of the early 20th century became incorporated into law: the 40-hour workweek, end of child labour laws, safety regulations for workplaces, and so forth.
This is where I see the movement heading — a co-opting by the left of the Democrat Party, a formalising of some of the more agreeable principles, including the incorporation of Dylan Ratigan’s Get Money Out of Politics movement, and a formalized, permanent voice for the poor and middle class in American society. These seem to be the overarching goals of the movement, do they not? “Make things fair and quit letting the rich rig the system” seems like a noncontroversial central theme.
To find out if I am way off base, I emailed the group over at DailyKos.com that is most involved with the Occupy Wall Street movement. One diarist at the site, who goes by the name Horace Boothroyd III, was kind enough to write back and give an insider perspective on what, exactly, the movement is doing.
“What accurately portrays this movement is the fact that 99% of Americans are playing a game called life in which the other side has been cheating to their detriment,” Boothroyd said. “They are waking up to that fact and since the advent of the Citizens United decision and the resulting disenfranchisement of voters voices caused by that, there is a realisation we must do something.”
“That is why you are seeing these groups forming in every state they feel their vote, their contacts to political leaders are unwanted and unheeded. For example we have unemployment that is tenacious right now and we have a Congress that is ignoring any bill that would remedy that. Our goals are a fair and just society where every American has a chance of supporting themselves — That would be the singular meme you would find asking any of the OWS supporters.”
This is actually a question I have posed to my friends and family, including some of the folks I work with here at Benzinga. If you look at American society right now, is it fair? Does everyone have a more-or-less equal chance to work hard and succeed? I think the experience of the last 30 years tells us that no, actually, Americans do not have equal chances to succeed.
I know plenty of hard-working, intelligent, college-educated who are either unemployed or working at some minimum wage, soul-sucking retail job. It is a simple fact that you cannot support yourself, let alone support a family, on $9 an hour. You just cannot do it. We have an entire generation trying to do it right now, and it simply isn’t working.
We also have a wealth of world history that tells us, essentially, we can solve this and improve the lot in life for millions of our citizens, or there will be revolt, violence, bloodshed, and the probable end of our Republic. Since the next stage is almost always a dictator, perhaps we should be proactive and solve this gross imbalance of wealth and opportunity before it grows out of control.
That’s something that Boothroyd highlighted in our interview: a stable society requires that citizens, for the most part, have the means to secure shelter, provide for themselves and their families, and so forth.
“I personally like this movement and it’s non-violent emphasis because we can make our voices heard — if we continue to spiral down this road of income inequality historically violent uprisings are the end result. This movement is trying to encourage changes to occur before society degenerates to the point of violence,” Boothroyd said.
He continued: “As to permanence I certainly hope that the ideals themselves- non-violence, social and income parity, justice, and economic stability do carry on from this movement. We as a society have faded away from the gains we had when labour groups and social groups a the primary voice of the average American.
“That has resulted in the conditions we see now, conditions not seen since the Great Depression. We know the rules, laws, and regulations put in place during and after the Great Depression are what catapulted our society to greatness in the twentieth century. We need those controls on capitalism again for the benefit of everyone, including corporations. Who are they going to sell to if there is no household money to buy their products? Who can they find for skilled labour if schools are underfunded? How will they get their product to market of the roads and bridges are not passable, if hijackers can outwit underfunded police forces? We are a society and we have to make an effort to maintain that society,” Boothroyd said.
That’s what it comes down to, isn’t it? Society cannot survive if the wealth is tied up in the hands of a few. Democracy cannot survive when those few wealthy can then rig the system to ensure their dollars outweigh our votes.
It was Abraham Lincoln who told us that ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Well, we are not divided. We are united. We are, arm-in-arm, a chain of justice that reaches across this land, from Sea to Shining Sea. We are the 99 per cent. With the utmost respect for those who uttered these hallowed words before us, We Shall Overcome.
You can reach the author by email: [email protected] or on twitter: @johndthorpe.