As usual, Bush got it wrong. Wall Street soberly and cynically got the rest of us drunk on dreams of homeownership, a robust stock portfolio and a cozy retirement. This slurry bacchanal was fueled by the housing bubble and, when that exploded in our faces, bailouts saved Wall Street from any hangover, so it's us who will suffer through a torturous, decades-long headache of a ruined economy.
But who are us, exactly? Us are the poor and the middle class, unions, retirement funds and governments at all levels, federal, state and city. Us are 99%, according to the mostly young protesters at Liberty Park in NYC. Nearly everyone got ripped off, including the cops guarding these protesters. As a protest sign sweetly and innocently demands: "Say Sorry! To All of Us!"
After eight days of protest, over a hundred people have already been arrested. Several have been roughed up, with cops being caught on still and video cameras pepper spraying or yanking the hair of young women, or slamming people to the ground. Sadly, these cops are fighting against their own interest. Bankrupted by Wall Street, cities all over America are laying off policemen left and right. Why defend the crooks of Wall Street, cops, when they have directly caused many of your colleagues to be thrown onto the streets? When you yourself may end up on a park bench in the near future?
The conflict between cops and protesters can be partly attributed to a clash of styles, to the eternal jocks vs. freaks dichotomy, but dear policemen, these young people are actually on your side. In spite of their colorful or eccentric clothing, odd haircuts, tattoos or piercings, they are fighting for you, too. To their credit, the protesters have made overtures to these cops by offering them coffee and water, but the cops, keen to maintain separation, have declined.
During the massive protest at Tiananmen Square, there was initially much fraternization between protesters and soldiers. They conversed, established common cause and did not wish to harm each other, so the government had to truck in troops from distant provinces, many of them not even Han Chinese, to commit the massacre. Also, in that famous photo of the protester who stopped a line of tanks, recall the restraint of that tank driver. Though trained and brought in to kill, this soldier couldn't do it, at least in that instance.
With these Wall Street skirmishes, and many more battles to come, one has to hope for that solidarity and fraternization. Though the belligerent will always gravitate towards jobs that allow them access to weapons, incorrigible psychotics are relatively few, for even in a gung ho uniform, most men aren't overeager to inflict pains on another. In fact, before the Vietnam War, most soldiers did not even fire their rifles during battles, though improved reflexive trainings have "corrected" this natural reluctance to kill. United we must stand, Americans, clean cut cops and tattooed protesters alike, against that destroyer of America, Wall Street.
Last wednesday, there was a NYC protest against cuts to the public schools. It took place at Tweed Courthouse, only half a mile from the Occupy Wall Street rally, but unlike the anti-Wall Street activists, these protesters were mostly above 35-years-old, with many of them Black or Hispanic. It would have been wonderful had these public school teachers marched over to the Wall Street protest, for it is precisely Wall Street that has bankrupted their state and city, putting their jobs in jeopardy. Dear teachers, do join these brave young protesters, because Wall Street is also your enemy. Dearest everybody, Wall Street is the vampire who's draining blood from all of our bodies.
Several commentators have pointed out the lack of clarity of the anti-Wall Street rally. What reforms are they after, exactly? Among the many signs at the site, there are those that attack the Federal Reserve, bank bailouts and Corporate Personhood, and for the restoration of the Glass-Steagall Act, but these key demands are either diluted or enlivened, depending on your temperament, I suppose, by signs that are merely whimsical, vaguely philosophical or even antithetical to this protest. Though I smiled at "OPPOSITION IS TRUE FRIENDSHIP," I had to cringe at "FREE IRAN! MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD IS NOT MY PRESIDENT!"
Whether Iran needs to be liberated or not, it's not for me to say, but it is surely genocidal to appeal to Americans to "free" yet another Islamic country, and one that has been in Uncle Sam's crosshair ever since it had the temerity to oust that CIA favorite, the Shah.
In addition to the many, many signs, there are also teach ins and book discussions, so a primary aim of this protest is to educate the public about the flaws of our system, and to articulate possible remedies. It's crucial, then, that the most important messages not be drown out by irrelevancies and contradictions. There must be a way to keep the main points front and center at all times, so that even the most casual tourist will know what it is he is witnessing.