The Arab Spring and the Israeli social justice protests of the past summer, along with popular uprisings in Greece and Spain, are informing the current wave of demonstrations following on Occupy Wall Street, which has rolled into its fourth week in Manhattan (see story on Page 1). The plaza at the Hennepin County Government Center is the site of a local allied protest, OccupyMN, with mainly young activists camping there day and night.
Pundits and politicians of right-wing views are going after Occupy Wall Street with both barrels blazing, figuratively speaking; but, let’s be honest, the Wall Street banks and their pliant enablers in the marble halls of lawmaking threw the first punch.
The deregulated banks gambled recklessly on collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) and credit default swaps (CDSs) and other risky financial instruments. They lost their shirts, brought down the global economy, ruined pension plans, foreclosed on millions of homes — and then the U.S. government pumped up the perpetrator banks, or the few that were left, with hundreds of billions of dollars in loans.
Main Street — you and me — got bupkes. Nothing. Zilch. Zero. Actually, we are left to fend for ourselves in a persistently sluggish economy that is characterized by an ever-widening income and assets gap between the mega-rich and nearly everyone else.
So, now we have what some of the conservative talking heads call “class warfare,” which apparently commences when the majority of people at the bottom of the economic heap start fighting back. In Israel, the most massive protests in the history of the Jewish state began over the price of cottage cheese. In America, it’s a smÃ¶rgÃ¥sbord of grievances.
We are fighting two foreign wars, with the costs being borne by a tiny fraction of the populace (and the tab being run up on Uncle Sam’s credit card). Higher education is becoming too expensive for children of working and middle class families. Small businesses are struggling to stay solvent. Millions of Americans are out of work, underwater in their mortgage loans, drowning in debt or facing foreclosure.
It is not that hard to fathom why many of our fellow citizens are taking to the streets to publicize their myriad complaints. Okay, apparently it is difficult for some to understand.
For example, U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor told the Value Voters Summit last Friday that he was “increasingly concerned about the growing mobs occupying Wall Street and the other cities across the country. And, believe it or not, some in this town have actually condoned the pitting of Americans against Americans.”
The Los Angeles Times reported that Republican presidential contender Herman Cain recently called the Occupy Wall Street protesters “jealous” Americans who “play the victim card” and want to “take somebody else’s” Cadillac.
Paul Krugman, the Nobel economics laureate, addressed these kind of outlandish remarks in his Monday column in the New York Times. He noted that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg accused the OWS protesters of trying to “take the jobs away from people working in this city,” which Krugman branded as “a statement that bears no resemblance to the movement’s actual goals.”
Krugman added: “And if you were listening to talking heads on CNBC, you learned that the protesters ‘let their freak flags fly,’ and are ‘aligned with Lenin.’
“The way to understand all of this is to realize that it’s part of a broader syndrome, in which wealthy Americans who benefit hugely from a system rigged in their favor react with hysteria to anyone who points out just how rigged the system is.”
Absent some miracle in the short term, the protests will continue across the U.S. In the wee hours of Tuesday morning, police conducted a mass arrest of more than 100 Occupy Boston protesters, beating some of them and throwing their personal belongings into garbage trucks.
However, the Occupy Everywhere movement has been largely peaceful, and the authorities should resist responding with a mailed fist. Rather, they should reread the First Amendment, which instructs Congress to “make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
— Mordecai Specktor / editor [at] ajwnews.com
(American Jewish World, 10.14.11)