A year or so ago I wrote a column about a group of people in Tiverton who had been plagued for years by industrial pollution in their neighborhood.
I declared it one of my favorite news stories ever because, instead of rallying at the Statehouse or lobbying the governor or protesting to the General Assembly, those folks went to where they knew the real power was: they protested outside the Pawtucket law office of one of the state’s top lobbyists.
I am reminded of that this week because that is precisely what is happening now on Wall Street and in Providence’s Burnside Park and in cities literally all over the world with what is being called the Occupy Wall Street movement.
These people aren’t bothering with Congress or the White House or any other part of government, they are going directly to where the real power resides: Wall Street, the big banks and other financial houses. Never mind government, the real power exists where it always has existed, with Big Money.
There is an old joke that politics is show business for homely people and that has never been truer than it is today, at least as far as Washington is concerned.
Washington is so hopelessly gridlocked that the only thing left is the show business. Everything that is done is done for the cameras of CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. Everybody stakes out their own turf and plays to their own crowds and nobody even tries to actually accomplish anything important anymore.
The political system is broken, it is like a car with a blown motor; it isn’t going to take you to the left or the right. It is no longer an effective vehicle for anyone’s purposes. When Government is broken down, Money is going to run rampant.
If I had to guess, I would say the overwhelming majority of the people in the streets for the “Occupy” movements in America were folks who helped sweep Barak Obama into the presidency three years ago. When he was selling his promise of hope and change, this was the change they were hoping he would bring about. They thought it was going to be Obama standing up to Wall Street, they thought it was Obama who would be fighting fiercely for the 99 percent of people against the 1 percent who dominate 40 percent or more of all the wealth in this nation. Instead Obama sold himself out to Wall Street just like every other top politician in this country has done for decades.
There is nothing left to do but take to the streets. That is why the Occupy movement is resorting to political theater. The play’s the thing wherein they’ll catch the conscience of the president.
The average guy can’t even resist by not paying his taxes because, in the event he is lucky enough to have a job, the taxes are taken directly out of his paycheck before he even sees it. The politicians are keenly aware of how powerful money is and they are not about to let the masses hold the power of money over their heads. Better to just bow and scrape to the select few uber-wealthy.
The Occupy movement and the Tea Party have more in common than either side cares to admit. Both are being screwed by the financial-political complex, they are just blaming different bogeymen.
The Tea Party thinks it’s the Democrats and the unions and illegal aliens that are the cause of the problem and the Occupiers say it is the Wall Street and the Republicans and corporate greed.
If they could both set aside what divides them and work together on the things they agree upon, they could become a potent, if not unstoppable force. (On the other hand, if Congress would just do the same thing, there might be no need for either the Tea Party or the Occupiers.)
Some folks like to belittle and marginalize the Occupy movement, but it is long overdue that people take to the streets to oppose the corporatocracy that is reducing us all into expendable, interchangeable cogs in its money-making machine.
It takes A LOT to bring our self-absorbed populace out into the streets these days. To stop them from fingering their iPhones and Blackberries, from Tweeting and Facebooking and playing with their Wiis long enough to pay attention to what is happening around them and affecting their lives for the worse.
That the Occupiers and the Tea Partiers are finally doing it is an unalloyed GOOD THING. God bless both of them for fighting the good fight as they see what that fight is. The financial-political complex depends on the passivity and timidity of the 99 percent. If that sleeping giant wakes up and fights back, we could have another French Revolution on our hands.
A message often seen on many of the crudely-written signs during the television accounts of the Occupy protests says, “Eat the Rich.” Over the top radical? Of course it is. But that is what it could come to if the already out-of-whack distribution of wealth continues to skew toward the 1 percent. If the 1 percent vs. 99 percent disparity turns the United States into a Third-World country, people are going to start resorting to Third-World remedies.
We are at risk today of returning to the Gilded Age, where a few super-rich families of robber barons (no relation) hoarded a huge percentage of the wealth and the rest of the people (the 99 percent) scrounged for the crumbs they brushed off their linen tablecloths.
Capitalism is a great and good thing. It isn’t the best economic system; it is the only workable and productive economic system. But, like everything else, it is not perfect. Capitalism, if allowed to run unchecked, has its excesses. It can be used by those who have much money to rig the game against those who don’t have as much. It needs to be regulated to maintain basic fairness and to prevent the Golden Rule from being perverted into “He who has the gold makes the rules.”
That is where government is supposed to come in. Government is supposed to be the way of leveling the playing field. It is supposed to be a check and balance to prevent those who have accumulated wealth from steamrolling the rest of society. That doesn’t work when government and the people who are elected to run it sell themselves out to those who have all the money.
If the Occupy movement can jump-start that debate in this country, it will have done us all a great service and earned a place in history.