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?
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.
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.