Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Moral Clarity of Occupy Wall Street

Whose Side Are You On: The Moral Clarity of Occupy Wall Street


By Robert Borosage

October 7, 2011 - 2:21pm ET


Once Occupy Wall Street demonstrations started to sweep

across America, the mainstream media began to pay

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

bailed out; Main Street was abandoned. The top 1% rigs

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, Liberty Square became a

tourist center.


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 Madison,

Wisconsin to protest Gov. Scott Walker's attempt to

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

Washington Post suggested that unions and national

organizers were resentful of Occupy Wall Street, but in

fact most were buoyed by the energy unleashed, the moral

challenge posed.


4. Political Steamroller


Pundits dismiss Occupy Wall Street for not having a

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 New York State's Eric

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 America

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 Occupy Wall Street,

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 Chicago? Why was he talking about

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.


Historically, when America has reached the levels of

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 Roosevelt from the left in

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.



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