Whose Side Are You On: The Moral Clarity of Occupy Wall Street
By Robert Borosage
October 7, 2011 - 2:21pm ET
attention -- and sounded a chorus of criticism. The
movement was disorganized; it had no agenda. It wasn't
organized like the Tea Party. Fox News trotted out ace
reporter Geraldo Rivera -- really -- to charge that
European anarchists, paid illegal aliens, and out and
out leftists were behind the innocent kids. Herman Cain
led disapproving Republicans, calling the movement "un-
American," when he should have been celebrating what it
was doing for pizza sales.
Virtually everything said about this movement is wrong.
Stand back; take a clear look. Every politician should
understand one thing: this is coming at you and you must
decide. Whose side are you on?
1. Moral clarity
Occupy Wall Street has no policy agenda, but it has
utter moral clarity. The demonstrators have built an
island of democracy in the belly of Wall Street. The
bankers looking down on them would be on the street had
not taxpayers bailed them out. And now they are
confronted with students sinking under student debt with
no jobs, homeowners who are underwater and can't find
mortgage relief, workers desperate for work.
No one is confused about the message. Wall Street got
the rules and pockets the rewards. And 99% get sent the
bill for the party they weren't even invited to.
2. Non violent discipline
That moral clarity was dramatized when the demonstrators
stayed disciplined in the face of police provocation,
including pepper spray in the face. The movement did not
begin to sweep the country until people saw the police
protecting Wall Street's banksters by assaulting
peaceful protestors. Suddenly this wasn't a
disorganized, rag tag gathering. These were citizens
under attack for exercising their rights. That struck a
powerful moral chord.
3. A Rising Protest
Across the country, people have responded to this
clarity. Unemployed kids rallied to their side. White-
collar workers stopped by for lunch. Suburbanites came
in to share. On Wall Street,
Unions and national progressive organizations marched in
support, without pretending to speak for the
demonstrators. For progressives, this surge of protest
began building months ago, when thousands of people
rallied to take over the capitol building in
crush worker rights. It built over the summer as
thousands turned up at town meetings and sobered
legislators with their demand for jobs, not cuts. The
organizers were resentful of
fact most were buoyed by the energy unleashed, the moral
4. Political Steamroller
clear agenda. They are told to turn their protests into
political demands. Some offer suggestions of what they
should advocate -- "infrastructure investment" says Paul
Krugman, a speculation tax on banks, home mortgage
relief. The press wonders if Occupy will become the
left-wing Tea Party and run candidates in elections, as
if left-wing Koch brothers were orchestrating the protests.
But this is silly. Occupy Wall Street is already a
political steamroller. Without an agenda, without an
electoral operation, without a slate of candidates, if
it continues to grow, it will force every national
politician to decide whose side he or she is on. Are you
with the banks or with the 99%? And prove it. Reporters
will insure the question gets posed; voters will be
interested in the answer.
This is a question that discomfits the White House, as
Vice President Joe Biden admitted, since the
administration bailed out the banks without reforming
them. It is a question that exposes Republicans --
particularly Tea Party Republicans -- the ersatz
populists who brayed against the bank bailout in the
election, and then have worked tirelessly to rollback
any reforms, gut the Consumer Financial Protection
Bureau, and reopen the financial casino. It is a
question, as the demonstrators show, not simply about
the banks. The demonstrators demand action on jobs. And
they want Wall Street to pay us back -- not cuts in
Medicare or student loans or schools.
And these challenges are likely to grow more stark. Mass
unemployment is continuing. More and more Americans are
losing their homes. More kids are graduating from school
into the worst jobs scene in decades. Big banks are in
increasing legal and financial peril for their pervasive
fraud and abuses in the housing bubble. Independent
Attorneys General like
Schneiderman have launched investigations. Investors are
collecting on lawsuits.
If this economy continues to stagnate or slow, which
seems increasingly likely, banks like Bank of
are going to looking for another bailout. And once more,
every national politician, from the president on down,
will have to decide whose side they are on.
5. It's Only Just Begun
No one can predict what happens to
but the public protests have just begun. When the Civil
Rights Movement took off, it too faced many of the same
criticisms. It had too many demands. Its priorities were
unclear. Did it want only to overturn legal segregation?
Why was King going to
poverty, and not just about equal rights? How dare he
talk about the war?
But King wasn't the only voice. There were competing and
complementary centers of power. There were lawyers and
lobbyists. Students in SNCC chafed at King's caution.
Black power challenged integration. Riots shook the country.
Movements aren't tidy. They aren't organized. They
unleash energy. They inspire ordinary people to leave
their daily routines and do extraordinary things. They
inspire; they insult; they mortify. They disrupt
business as usual. And if they touch a chord, they grow,
and they force politicians and citizens to decide.
extreme inequality and corruption that it now witnesses,
popular movements arise to demand change. The populist
movements of the late 19th century took on the Robber
Barons. Unions, left parties, Huey Long and his "every
man a King" movement pushed
the 1930s. And now, even as pundits were wondering where
the left was, the eruption is beginning again.
Will this movement be a factor in the 2012 elections? It
already is. Will it make clear demands? It already has.
Whose side are you on? Wall Street or kids in the
street? The top 1% or the 99%? It doesn't get clearer than that.