Thursday, October 6, 2011

The House Always Wins...

Foley Square, NYC, October 6, 2011

I have been following the progress of the Occupy Wall Street movement closely over the past week. I do not recall which news program or outlet that I was watching wherein I first heard about the Occupy movement, but I remember thinking that it was a smart and daring task that these handful of (mostly) young people were taking on.

Like hundreds of thousands of other patriotic, tax-paying Americans, I have been quietly sucking it up while our country has gone through the emotional and financial grinder of the past 10+ years. And while I did not vote for two terms of George W. Bush or his administration's policies, neither did I erupt in public outrage when it looked to me as though our country was "heading in the wrong direction," a phrase which is bantered around a lot right now from both sides. In the aftermath of 9/11, and over the past 12 years, I have dutifully supported our troops as they went into harms way to liberate the Afghan's and Iraqi's, even when I felt that our country was making poor, long-term foreign policies. But, I feel that we have had to shoulder ever more of the burden of our countries weight.

I am not a Tea Partier, but I do support their right to assemble, speak and organize, same as anyone else. I do not necessarily agree with their political ideology, but I do feel that their patriotic hearts are in the right place. This is why I support the Occupy Wall Street movement - it is clear that up and until now, or since the time that I graduated from college in 2001, that we have been given a pretty raw deal from our financial and political institutions. There is some, limited evidence that there might even be collusion between those two camps toward the end of signing themselves record profits and bonuses, on the backs of the working and middle class.

Several influential and accomplished authors have written about this phenomenon, including Bill Black, author of The Best Way To Rob a Bank Is To Own One (2005), about the S&L scandal of the 1980's, as well as financial journalist, Michael Lewis who wrote The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine (2009). These authors are not loons, crazies or conspiracy theorists. Bill Black is a professor of Economics at University of Missouri. Michael Lewis was a bond trader in the 1980's for Salomon Brothers before going into full-time journalism for magazine and books. That is neither here nor there if we do not read what they have written or listen to what they have to say, which is quite a bit! 

Having said all of that, I think that we can largely agree, whatever our political stripes, that our country is at a crossroads. We are being beat in education and competitiveness by other countries which were not considered a threat 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago.New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman is another journalist who has been recently rankling about the state of our economy, joblessness and lack of combined spirit to take community action. In his book. That Used To Be Us (2011), says that America is falling behind in four key areas "globalization, the revolution in information technology, the nation’s chronic deficits, and its pattern of energy consumption" (Friedman, 2011). If that is true, then the time to act is now.

The idea of organizing to enact social change is nothing new, and I do not believe that the Occupy Movement is inventing the wheel on this one. Particularly in the early and mid-20th century, there was a great deal of social strife as women, people of color and young people all took to the streets at different times to enact change that was not going to come by any other means. In the mid-1800's, women began organizing for the right to vote. An amendment granted to all American women in 1920 is commonly held to be inherently right and true, to the point that when it was recently given to women in Saudi Arabia, it was front-page news.

The same was true in the 1960s concerning the civil rights movement. African-American men and women took to the streets and marched on southern cities for their rights, decades after Lincoln abolished slavery. The civil rights movement was extraordinary, in part because it did enact social change. When the Johnson administration passed the Civil Rights Act in 1964, there can be little doubt that the act was proposed and passed, in part to the collective and peaceful action of citizens acting in their own best intrests.

I heard on Talk of the Nation (NPR) that there is already a doctoral student out there writing their dissertation on the commonality between the Occupy Wall Street movement and Woodstock (1969). I don't know how fair or accurate the analogy is, seeing as how they did not have any particular student on the air. Host Neil Conan drew a small bead of amusement at the thought and indicated that the young protestors of the Woodstock era believed that they could change the world through love and peaceful demonstration (an apparently foolish idea by today's standards). But was it foolish? The hippies of the late 1960's didn't end up changing the world the way that they thought, nor did they end the war at that time, but they did manage to make some social change.

 My larger point is that some social causes attempt and fail to make ultimate change on their own terms, see hippies at Woodstock. Other groups tried and succeeded, see women's suffrage and civil rights movement of the 1960's. The Occupy movement might flame out in another five or ten days, or it may very well go on indefinitely, as they have publicly stated that they intend to do. Either way, I support them for their duration. The last time I checked, 297 cities were planning Occupy meetings in major and minor cities across the country. My wife and I am attending the Occupy Huntington event, which begins tomorrow evening. Let us hope that whatever this movement means, whatever it wants and stands for is a standard of living so basic and fair, that when it happens to the citizens of Saudi Arabia in another 100 years, that it will be front page news.

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