Americans who flew bombing missions in World War II had a saying: "You know you're on target when you start getting a lot of flak." The protesters in today's nascent "Occupy Wall Street" movement must really be on target, then, because -- boy! -- they're enduring an unrelenting barrage of rhetorical flak from political and media defenders of America's plutocracy.
At first, the Loyal Defenders of the Plutocratic Order simply tried to ignore the youthful protest that had sprouted on September 17 in a plaza next door to Wall Street. But the occupiers, who were remarkably proficient in social media, spread their story and the visuals of their occupation to millions who tuned in on the web. This generated support from all over, and many more people began trekking to New York to join them. Surprised and alarmed by this inflow, the L.D.P.O. tried to cut it off by firing rounds of mockery at the protesters to make them look frivolous -- a September 23 New York Times piece, for example, snickered that this "fractured and airy" movement was just a "carnival" of bored kids adrift in an "intellectual vacuum." Their cause, opined the writer, was "virtually impossible to decipher." Already, she declared, the movement is "dwindling."
Sheesh, so snarky. And so wrong. In fact, the group's core message of "enough is enough" -- a call to rebel against rampaging economic injustice and rampant political corruption foisted on us by the richest one percent -- was resonating among young and old, the poor and middle class, and it was spreading like wildfire throughout the country. Occupy Boston took root on September 30; Occupy Denver, Miami, Portland (Maine), and Seattle on October 1; Occupy Atlanta, Austin, Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Portland (Oregon), and San Francisco popped up simultaneously on October 6. Within three weeks, there were more than 200 Occupy cities and towns, ranging in size from Philadelphia to McAllen, Texas.
Suddenly, with thousands of fed up Americans in the streets, linking together through a network named OccupyTogether.org, the principals of the Plutocratic Order were getting antsy. "Is this a big deal?" an anxious Wall Street CEO asked a reporter. "We're trying to figure out how much we should be worried about all of this. Is this going to turn into a personal safety problem?" (You see, it's always about them.) As the jitters of the elite edged toward panic, the L.D.P.O. rushed out its big guns, firing volley after volley of flak at the occupiers, most of it comically absurd:
- The corporate hirelings on CNBC's "Kudlow Report" reached all the way back to the dark days of McCarthyism for a red scare bomb, declaring that the 20-and-30-somethings in New York's streets are "aligned with Lenin."
- Eric Cantor, the extremely extreme House Majority Leader who keeps rousing the tea party mob in Congress to shut down our government, warned ominously about "the growing mob occupying Wall Street."
- As usual, the "Fox & Friends" TV yak show offered a keen analysis of the situation, reporting that those protesting are "convicted criminals, methadone felons, and professional handcuff-lock-pickers."
- Mitt Romney -- whose own Wall Street investment fund made huge profits in the 1990s by taking over various companies, plundering their assets, and firing thousands of workers -- sounded this alarm about the rising rabble who dare to confront the financial order: "I think it's dangerous, this class warfare."
- Rush Limbaugh spewed a gusher of vitriol against "anarchists" and "union thugs" before coming to a Sherlockian conclusion about the purpose of the protests: "There's no doubt in my mind that the White House is behind this. Obama is setting up riots."
- Tea party fave Rand Paul expressed the odd concern that the peaceful occupiers would become a "Parisian mob" and start looting iPads from Wall Street executives on the grounds that "rich people don't deserve them."
- And what's a clown show without Glenn Beck? He warned all capitalists that "These guys are worse than Robespierre," and he described the coming horror of protesters who "will come for you and drag you into the streets and kill you... They are Marxist radicals... They'll kill everybody."
- Herman Cain has been the goosiest of all. Currently a GOP presidential front-runner, the former CEO of the Godfather's Pizza chain lectured the protesters: "Don't blame Wall Street. If you don't have a job and you're not rich, blame yourself." Then he doubled down on plutocratic goosiness by proclaiming that, "To protest Wall Street and the bankers is basically saying you're anti-capitalism." Worse, he exclaimed, protesting is "anti-American." Finally, the millionaire pizza mogul pleaded sheer ignorance: "These demonstrations -- I honestly don't understand -- what are they looking for?"
It's coming from the feel that this ain't exactly real, or it's real, but it ain't exactly there... Democracy is coming to the USA.
"Democracy" is Leonard Cohen's pulsating political anthem of hope. In the song, he's not quite sure about how far America has progressed on its historic voyage, but he is certain that if we keep tacking toward egalitarianism, we'll make it: "Sail on, sail on/O mighty Ship of State!/To the Shores of Need/Past the Shoals of Greed... Democracy is coming to the USA."
This could be the protesters' theme song. Is the movement "real"? Yes. It's youth-driven, creative, broad-based, insistently democratic, optimistic, serious-minded, and deeply rooted in America's most basic values of economic fairness, social justice, and equal opportunity for all. It's not about left-right ideologies, but top-down realities. The movement is focused squarely on the narcissistic greed of today's financial and corporate elites who've turned their backs on America's workaday majority and purchased our government wholesale through moneyed corporations that now masquerade as "persons."
Is it "exactly there"? Not by a long shot. But this movement does have a shot. The spunk, motivation, idealism, passion, and energy of these young people (and the many older ones in the streets with them) are genuine -- not the product of partisan operatives, focus groups, think tanks, rich funders, or string-pulling organizations.
These people are on target and on the move. At the very least, they represent fresh hope and offer new ideas for putting some real progress in progressive -- and that alone makes them worth supporting, no matter what else they might bring to the cause.
A starting point for helping is for us more traditional progressive forces to understand clearly what the Occupy movement is and isn't, so we can punch back against the factual ignorance, misinterpretations, bad advice, lies, and outright villainy of the uprising's various critics. Let's start by wrestling THREE BIG FIBS to the ground:1. The occupiers have no focus.
Hello -- they have "Wall Street" in the name of their movement. Isn't that a clue? Also their chosen slogan of "We are the 99%" shines the national spotlight right in the shocked faces of the avaricious one-percenters who control the vast majority of America's wealth and power and are aggressively using that control to get more for themselves, making a mockery of our democracy. For now, protest itself is the focus, and that's enough.
While the protesters do pull from a very full grab bag of particular outrages (corporate personhood, the contamination of our food supply, eliminating collective bargaining rights, the Koch brothers, Big Oil, student loan ripoffs, government-for-sale, permanent war, downsizing and offshoring middle-class jobs, gutting health plans and pensions, etc.), practically all come down to the domination and abuse of America's many by its evermore-privileged few.
Pundits sneer at the movement's plethora of causes as a confusing mess. But it's really a remarkable achievement. For years, the Lowdown has pleaded with diverse progressive groups to come together, keeping each of their particular concerns intact, but finding common cause in the overarching issue of corporate power. Well -- here it is! Occupy's diversity is one of its great strengths.
This is America's genuine populism -- as contrasted with the plastic, corporatized imitation that the tea party eruption quickly melted into (see Lowdown, September 2011). Real populism doesn't look down on poor people and doesn't try to pull down teachers, firefighters, and other middle-classers. Occupy Together invites us to unite in a real democracy movement that's not afraid to point at the opulent fiefdoms all the way up at the tippy-top of America's power structure, calling out the economic royalists for the injustice and inequality that they're imposing across our land.
No focus? Ask John Paulson. He's a little-known hedge fund profiteer who raked in nearly $5 billion in personal pay last year (the largest one-year haul in Wall Street history). He didn't "earn" that by developing some product to benefit humanity, but by merrily betting that America's real estate market would collapse on millions of American families and by rigging a Wall Street casino game to sucker investors for his own enrichment. One day in early October, the New York protest moved from way downtown to uptown, stopping at Paulson's 28,000-square-foot, $15 million stone mansion on the toney Upper East Side. They exposed him as a gleaming piece of plutocratic nonsense sitting pretty high above an economy that his ilk wrecked.
He repaid Occupy with a burst of narcissism that's truly priceless. In a press release, Paulson barked that taxes from hedge fund billionaires like him are "providing huge benefits to everyone in our city and state," thus inadvertently drawing attention to the fact that hedge funders are subsidized by a special tax rate that's less than half the rate paid by middle classers. Then he blurted that his fund "has created over 100 high-paying jobs in New York City." Wow -- a hundred jobs! In a city of eight million people. Thanks, John. Our economy just wouldn't be the same without you.