Friday, 28 October 2011 00:00
With millions of Americans feeling increasingly lost, a thousand points of light emanate from Lower Manhattan, many in sleeping bags. Despite weeks of outright slander and ridicule directed at Occupy Wall Street, they have given a voice to the growing frustration in this country that some powerful people are doing bad things and good people aren’t able to stop them.
Some pretty sharp people down there have been organizing food, toilets, extra clothes, medical care and even reading material. If you want to recruit talented organizers for business or government, I’d suggest setting up a job fair right there at Zuccotti Park (formerly called “Liberty Plaza Park).
These are not “hippies,” as some keep saying. Hippies were largely about dropping out of the system. The “Occupy” people are trying to get in, and stay in. Most people down there have jobs, which is why only a core group stays all the time and thousands of others go to work and come back when they can.
They don’t care if TV pundits and tabloid columnists are upset that there isn’t a neat package of demands for them to belittle. They don’t care how the President is polling. They don’t care about establishment feelings on the right or the left. On Oct. 18, some of the OWS people went up to SoHo to protest outside a red carpet party hosted by Huffington Post, which was lauding Governor Cuomo as “Game Changer of the Year” (New York’s tax cuts for multi-millionaires and billionaires take effect on Jan. 1).
Even if most of this fades with winter, OWS has fulfilled its most important function: Fifty million additional Americans have paused during their day and started to think about what kind of a deal they’ve been getting.
I’m not big on much of the body art and street theater (the “V for Vendetta” masks are cool), but it’s New York. Of course people who think theatrically are going to be there in large numbers. The traditional demonstrations with fliers and agendas and spokespersons haven’t stopped anything.
They have kept their cool, despite increasingly aggressive push-back by police, clearly on orders by the city administration. The biggest risk of violence is from infiltrators, outsiders and bad decisions by Mayor Bloomberg.
Not everyone in charge is freaking out. In Philadelphia, Mayor Nutter showed up on the very first night, long after midnight, and offered support. The First Amendment of the Constitution (freedom of assembly) has been read at police roll calls repeatedly. The protestors were allowed to open their tent town next to Philadelphia City Hall.
Most Americans are not afraid or angry with OWS. This scares some of the people who tell us what we’re supposed to think. It isn’t the people in the sleeping bags that scare them. It’s the majority in poll after poll who are saying that they personally wouldn’t walk around in a mask but that OWS makes some big, good, righteous points about simple economic justice and about the rule of law.
The 2008 Wall Street crisis never really ended, and we never really fixed anything.
Our leaders are putting us on the same path, the same downward spiral that has deadened economic growth in one country after another.
In every state but one, the official poverty rate is now over 10 percent. 12 states have poverty rates of 17 percent or more; two have rates over 20 percent. Thousands reading this are one injury or family crisis away from becoming a statistic. Meanwhile, some public figures are in a bidding war to prove who can most reward the successful and punish those struggling.
We got here because it is in the interests of selfish decision makers and candidates to follow the money. Policy is broken because politics is broken.
And that’s what many of the people at Zuccotti Park are saying. They aren’t down there as Democrats or Republicans. They want the interests of most Americans put first. Before the corporate interests, before the interests of people who have so much already and were never taught the old, cherished American concepts of civic virtue and patriotism.
Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org