Tuesday Reads: Occupy Boston, Occupy Wall Street, and a Modern Day Whisky RebellionPosted: October 4, 2011
Good Morning!! Today I want to focus on articles about Occupy Wall Street protests, which despite the critiques of those on both the right and left, are still going on in NYC and many other U.S. cities, including Boston, I’m happy to say. The Boston Phoenix has a blog to document the protests. On September 28, Chris Faraone wrote:
At this early juncture it’s already safe to say that Occupy Wall Street has succeeded. I’m not being sarcastic. Yesterday I wrote about the media storm that’s showered their protests from early on, and that’s rained down even harder since the New York Police Department began brutalizing demonstrators. And after last night’s Occupy Boston meeting on the Common, I’m convinced that the hordes have achieved something even greater than attracting press: regardless of what they actually accomplish in the end, Occupy has already become the hottest protest franchise since the Tea Party. Which is why it makes sense that contrarian Boston is emerging as the first city to strike while the brand is hot.
Last night’s kickoff meeting was at least a testament to the popularity of this movement. People have been angry for some time, but for many it was Occupy that motivated them – not the countless other protests that take place every week around here. Roughly 300 showed –with a significant number of reporters on the scene documenting –despite the event having been announced less than a day ahead of time, and almost exclusively through social media (Steve Annear, who you should follow on Twitter if you’re keeping tabs on the actions, also broke the story in the Metro). By a show of hands, a few dozen folks on the Common got their feet wet in Liberty Square during the first stretch of Occupy Wall Street. But for the most part, these were people – mostly young, but overall from a mix of backgrounds, ages, and ethnicities – who’d become interested by what they’d seen online and in the news.
The Guardian even published an article about the Boston organization:
There were socialists, anti-poverty campaigners, students, anarchists, computer hackers, the unemployed, and workers ranging from a vet to an accountant.
And, numbering around 200 and meeting to plot until late in the night, a group of Bostonians have decided to recreate the anti-Wall Street protests that are gripping New York.
Unlike previous attempts, such as a march that fizzled out in Chicago with just 20 people, the people behind Occupy Boston showed a strong dose of media savvy and organisational skill on Monday night, as they drew a committed crowd of volunteers to their cause: to occupy a slice of the city. Local TV crews were in attendance at the evening mass planning meeting, and it had been flagged on the front pages of Boston’s newspapers.
The move raises the first serious prospect of the Wall Street protests spreading beyond New York and comes as other events are also being planned in Los Angeles and Washington.
Noam Chomsky even made a youtube video of support.
This thing is really growing. Could it be that the young people of this country are really going to stand up and fight? I sure hope so. Is this happening where you live? If so, please share what you know. I’m starting to get excited about this!
Getting back to the New York protests, Emptywheel had a post today on the NYPD and their history of violations of civil liberties. I’m not going to excerpt from it, because you really need to read the whole thing–it’s not very long.
At FDL, David Dayen has a post about Van Jones’s Take Back the American Dream organization and how it is “building off #Occupy Wall Street.”
The Campaign for America’s Future expected their conference to be a launching pad for an American Dream Movement that would be a counterpart to the Tea Party, a left populist movement that would branch out across the country. And that movement has built itself up over the past couple months, and was in part responsible for the invisible town hall revolution over August.
But CAF found itself caught by an organic protest movement, a disparate movement organized by a simple theme, an expression of the feeling of mass injustice. Nobody on the left was totally prepared for #OccupyWallStreet, which sprung up on its own. But the groups that have been organizing in similar ways and with a similar theme were more than prepared to support it.
The spirit of #OccupyWallStreet has given a booster shot to this Take Back the American Dream Conference, which last year was completely moribund. The first session at the conference was a paean to #OccupyWallStreet, with video from New York City (the live feed crashed, unfortunately) and even one organizer who camped out in Zuccotti Park speaking. “If we demand something from Wall Street, we’re telling them that they have the power, but we do,” said the organizer from the Working Families Party in New York.
“They went down there to the scene of the crime against our future,” said Van Jones at his keynote address, in admiration of the #OccupyWallStreet protesters. “They’ve been beaten, they’ve been pepper sprayed, they’ve been falsely arrested, but they never broke their discipline. They told the police officers who were arresting them, we are the 99%, we’re fighting for you, we’re fighting for your pensions too.”
“Something’s happening in America. Don’t you give up on this movement!” Jones concluded.
Yes, something is finally happening. Will it continue to grow? I sure hope so!
I also want to call your attention to an interesting piece at Salon by William Hogeland, author of three books on the revolutionary period in American history. Hogeland compares the Occupy Wall Street movement to the so-called Whisky Rebellion. Hogeland writes about radical protests movements against our founding fathers, who were, after all, the elites of their day. Here’s just a sample:
The difficulty in dealing with our founding battle for democratic economics arises in part because the movement was not against England but against the very American banking and trading elites who dominated the resistance to England. That complicates our founding myth, possibly unpleasantly. Also, it was a generally losing battle. With ratification of the Constitution, Hamiltonian finance triumphed, and people looking to Jefferson and Madison for finance and economic alternatives to Hamilton are barking up the wrong tree, since what those men knew, or even really cared, about finance could be written on a dime. (Anyway, in pushing for creating a nation, Madison supported Hamiltonian finance down the line. Their differences came later.) When Occupy Wall Street protesters say “It’s We the People!” they’re actually referring to a preamble, intending no hint of economic democracy, to a document that was framed specifically to push down democratic finance and concentrate American wealth for national purposes. Not very edifying, but there it is.
The Tea Party, meanwhile, has taken up founding economic issues from a right-wing point of view, associating itself with the upper-middle-class Boston patriots (often mistaken for populist democrats) who led a movement against overrreaching British trade acts in the 1760′s and were important to the impulse toward American independence. I’ve written fairly extensively about where and how I think the Tea Party goes wrong on the history of the founding period. But at least they’re framing their objections to current policy, and framing the historical roots of their ideas, not mainly in cultural but in economic terms.
Like it or not, though, it is Occupy Wall Street that has the most in common, ideologically, not with those Boston merchants and their supporters but with the less well-known, less comfortably acknowledged people who, throughout the founding period, cogently proposed and vigorously agitated for an entirely different approach to finance and monetary policy than that carried forward by the famous founders. Amid horrible depressions and foreclosure crises, from the 1750′s through the 1790′s, ordinary people closed debt courts, rescued debt prisoners, waylaid process servers, boycotted foreclosure actions, etc. (More on that here and here.) They were legally barred from voting and holding office, since they didn’t have enough property, so they used their power of intimidation to pressure their legislatures for debt relief and popular monetary policies. Their few leaders in legit politics included the visionary preacher Herman Husband, the weaver William Findley, and the farmer Robert Whitehill.
I found this article absolutely fascinating!
At the LA Times, there’s an editorial about the “message” of the “Occupy” protests along with a photo of protesters at LA City Hall.
The political left has been searching for the last couple of years to find an answer to the tea party. Some hoped last year’s rally in Washington led by TV comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, a response to right-wing rallies attended by such conservative media celebrities as Glenn Beck, would spark a national movement. That didn’t happen. Now they’re pinning their hopes on Occupy Wall Street, which in many ways is a mirror image of the tea party. Both groups are motivated by frustration over the rotten economy and are vague about causes and solutions, though if their positions could be summed up in a one-line manifesto, it might be: The tea party, dominated by elderly conservatives, blames government overspending and overreach for our economic problems and would therefore like to cut federal spending, while Occupy Wall Street, dominated by young liberals, blames corporate greed and would therefore like to tax the rich and decrease corporate political power.
It is, of course, far too early to suggest that Occupy Wall Street represents a resurgence of the left. But we do seem to recall that in its initial days the tea party was similarly dismissed by pundits, especially those on the left who preferred to see the protesters as kooks rather than the vanguard of a political shift. What matters isn’t the size of the protest, the attire of the demonstrators or the misspellings on their signs; it’s whether the relatively tiny number of people who can be bothered to show up and march can inspire and energize other like-minded people enough to get them to the polls.
Finally, at Huffpo, there’s a piece by Judith Samuelson: A Baby Boomer’s Advice to the Millennials Occupying Wall Street
Whether their disgust with Wall Street is fueled by a lack of jobs or a more complex analysis was not apparent to me, but I trust we will be hearing more from the Millennials. Scholars are suggesting they will be a force to be reckoned with. In fact, you might already be experiencing their tendency to want to be heard in the workplace, in the classroom or at the dinner table, for example.
There are a lot of them; 90 million by some count, comprising the largest generation in our history. They are the most racially diverse generation ever, and they have been, and are being, shaped by remarkable events such as 9/11 and the ongoing global recession; by their parents — the boomers of yore; and, of course by technology — the first generation to take instant communications for granted. I believe that Millennials will shape our response to issues that bedevil us — through their passion about social issues, their facility with technology and social networking, and through their continued willingness to vote — as they did in big numbers in the last Presidential election.
Many of them will go to business school — or are already there. A quarter of post-graduate degrees are in business, and 20 percent of undergraduates are pursuing business degrees. Even at liberal arts colleges that may not offer “business” as a major, students flock to economics instead, or as close as they can get to the subject. This may be the result of parental pressure to exit school with some hope of finding a job (unlike baby boomers, Millennials are close to their parents and apparently even listen to them) but it is also in pursuit of the skills, language and heroes they have grown up with — more Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg than Bob Dylan and Robert Redford.
The question I have been thinking about is how they will bridge these two worlds — passion for social issues, and comfort with technology and business. I know from experience that real change is hard; that to influence business, and Wall Street, requires people skills as well as analytics, patience, and multiple approaches to gain the attention and commitment of the power brokers who set the rules and design the reward systems. Protest is a not an insignificant part of the puzzle, however, and always has been; just ask Walmart, Nike or Nestle.
In the spirit of Baby Boomers’ sharing their experience, strength, and hope with the Millennials, here’s a boomer anthem that might be appropriate:
What are you reading and blogging about today? Please share!