Occupy Movement relives the past
Any man more right than his neighbors constitutes a majority of one already. – Henry David Thoreau
Americans are not revolutionaries by nature despite the name of the war that gave us independence.
The Russians and the French, on the other hand, conducted real revolutions and we know how those went: Off went the heads of the moneyed, power elite only to be replaced by another form of despotism. It seems poor, working, and middle classes can’t get a break.
What we Americans are good at is incremental change. Sometimes it comes in spurts such as during the Progressive Period, New Deal, and Great Society but they are always followed by push-backs by the same sorts of people that experienced unpleasant demises in Russia and France.
When Thoreau published “Resistance to Civil Government” in 1849, he was protesting two corrupt aspects of the American government: the War on Mexico—their version of our War on Iraq—and slavery.
The Occupy Movement prompted me to reread Thoreau’s tract, commonly known as “Civil Disobedience.” In it, Thoreau lays the intellectual and philosophical foundation for civil disobedience that both Gandhi and Martin Luther King adopted.
The conundrum protesters face is their primary target is private practice and value—Wall St. and Big Banks’ greed and illicit behavior—with governmental action or inaction in the case of not prosecuting and sending Suits to the slammer for their roles in this calamitous economic meltdown secondary.
The Tea Party’s protest was reversed, being fine with Wall St. greed; just opposing taxpayer bailout of it.
Over time, a conflated, perverse relationship has developed between corporations—the Big Government of the business world—and our actual government. Thoreau noted it as early as the mid-19th century.
“The government itself, which is only the mode which the people have chosen to execute their will, is equally liable to be abused and perverted before the people can act through it.”
In 1936 Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.”
Our campaign finance methods, considering corporations human beings, equating money to free speech, and a tax code with countless loopholes fuel and exacerbate that incestuous relationship.
As Washington Post writer Dana Milbank observes, “For all the talk of populist foment—the Tea Party on the right and the new Occupy Wall St. movement on the left—business interests remain firmly in control. Forced to choose between their voters and their donors, lawmakers don’t hesitate before choosing the latter.”
A good friend emailed me, “This Occupy movement is amazing, Jerry. The world is changing so quickly; the youth have taken to the streets.”
To which I replied, “You are more sanguine about it than I.”
The reason for my lack of optimism is similar to the adage, “Been there; done that,” but only “Seen it before and little changes.”
This system is corrupt because of lapdogs, shills, and sycophants in the most powerful positions: Republicans aided and abetted by spineless Democrats beholden, as Milbank notes, to their campaign financiers.
My doubts about the Movement’s long-term impact rest on the Occupiers’ staying power in this fast-paced, I-want-it-now age in the face of the institutionalized power of moneyed elites.
If the Movement is to continue and make impact, to sway voters, it needs to morph into an effective organization with a coherent message and to identify and agree upon specific political outcomes, including Rolling Stone’s Mike Taibbi’s suggestion for priority #1—break up monopolies, too-big-to-fail institutions—and constitutional amendments about campaign financing, money as speech, and corporations being human beings.
On my visit to the Occupy Denver site last Thursday, the discussion was about the impending police crackdown. The speakers’ passion was palpable. It gave hope that the movement might have consequences, yet nagging doubts persist.
Marching, camping out, and staffing food kitchens for the homeless have caught the public’s attention with an approval rating twice that of the Tea Party, but it’ll take more.
History shows the guillotine doesn’t produce a just society, which leaves the alternative.
State and Denver police dispersed the Occupiers early Friday, but perhaps they’ll learn and adapt the strategy of native warriors of melting into the forest only to re-immerge at another time and place in even greater numbers.
To paraphrase a Taliban’s statement about their strategy against us in Afghanistan, Wall St. and its political hacks might wear Rolexes, but the Occupiers have time and, I’ll add, little more to lose.