Why I'm Behind Occupy Wall Street 99%
In 2009 I interviewed Chicago labor lawyer and author Thomas Geoghegan, who, that year, 1) argued a case before the U.S. Supreme Court (he won); 2) ran for Rahm Emanuel's congressional seat in Chicago (he lost); and 3) wrote a cover story for Atlantic magazine (“Infinite Debt: How unlimited interest rates destroyed the economy”). May we all have such successful and far-ranging years.
At one point in our Q&A, we had the following exchange about the depressed state of labor and the rise of the Tea Party:
Does it surprise you that angry populism seems to exist on the right rather than the left?
I think the left is pretty beaten down in this country. The non-electoral checks that I think a republic needs—and here I’m thinking about labor movements, works councils, co-determination—they just don’t exist here. So you would think, given the unemployment, given the debt, given the poverty in this country, and how wealthy it is, you’d think people would be really angry. In fact, I think they are.
And so they are. And so angry populism is existing, in public, on the left again.
I'm truly grateful for the Occupy Wall Street crowd. I'm behind them 99 percent. My generation, born in the early-to-mid-sixties, and coming of age in the early years of the Reagan administration, dropped the ball completely. We helped create the world as it is. Hopefully these kids will help create the world as it should be. Or closer to that ideal.
It'll get messy. It'll be disorganized. What can I say? It's the left and it's human beings and many will talk over their heads and/or demand what they can't get or what the majority of protesters don't even want. Plus you'll get your anarchists and nutjobs, and the mainstream media will focus on them, as will the right, and they'll try to discredit the movement any way they can. They'll say: It's just spoiled college kids. They'll say: Get a job! Leave the poor Wall Street brokers alone! They'll talk up the individual responsibility of the protesters, as if the lives of others, and the lives of powerful others, have no bearing on our own. As if the Global Financial Meltdown just kinda—oops—happened.
Others will parse, and have parsed, that 99% number. Isn't it more like 90%? Or 75%? They'll shake their heads and think the kids have already blown it. But they don't know a good slogan when they hear one. “Shouldn't it be, We WILL overcome?”
Others will conflate, and have conflated, the Occupy Wall Street crowd with the Tea Party:
Andrew Sullivan keeps doing this. He loves this chart. He thinks it's meaningful. I don't. Look at the point of intersection between the two movements. It says: “Large corporations lobby for government to have more power, and in return the government enacts laws and regulations favorable to corporations.” Question: In this scenario, what is the government doing? It's enacting laws and regulations. Which is its job. The problem isn't what the government is doing; the problem is who the government is listening to (corporations/CEOs/lobbyists) and who it isn't listening to (the 99%). That's what we need to fix. That's why the Occupy Wall Street crowd makes sense and the Tea Party never did.
I admit it: I hated the Tea Party from the get-go. It was the wrong people marching about the wrong things at the wrong time. It was historical movement as farce. If Tea Partiers were truly worried about the national debt, as they said they were, where were they when the national debt doubled from $5 trillion to $10 trillion during the Bush years? Why wait for the first few months of the Obama administration before taking to the streets? And if they were worried about taxes, as they said they were, why protest at all? Aren't taxes at historic lows? And if they were worried about both, well, how to reconcile the two? Lowering taxes raises the debt. You can say you want lower taxes and a lower debt, but, as the saying goes, people in hell want ice water. That kind of wish fulfillment, which has been going on for more than 30 years now, is why we're in this mess in the first place.
Others will conflate the movements in this manner:
Bigger version here.
Andrew Sullivan keeps doing this, too. He thinks this kind of thing is meaningful. I think it's ludicrous. The folks on the right want to cut taxes, or, absurdly, cut them to zero, when surrounded by all the necessities their taxes create. That's hypocrisy. The folks on the left may or may not think corporations are evil (none of their signs indicate that), but even if they did, the fact that they use the products of these corporations (and, again, the “razors by Gillette” indicators are mostly guesses) is not a sign of hypocrisy. It's evidence of just how pervasive corporations are in our lives. As consumers, we can't escape corporations. As employees, we may not be able to, either. So we better make sure they do the right thing. We better make sure that we, as both consumers and employees, are protected from the natural corporate drive to create profit at our expense.
Besides, this isn't what the movement is really about. What's it about? That 99% number is a clue. It's about the growing American oligarchy. It's about how the many have less, the few have most, and the government seems to be listening to the few with most rather than the many, the 99%, with less. Which isn't democracy as we were taught it.