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Take Our Children, Please! A Modest Proposal for Occupy Wall Street

Posted on Nov 30, 2011
jonny2love (CC-BY)

By Steve Fraser

This article was originally published by TomDispatch.

In 1729, when Ireland had fallen into a state of utter destitution at the hands of its British landlords, Jonathan Swift published a famous essay, “A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland from Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Public.”

His idea was simple: the starving Irish should sell their own children to the rich as food.

His inspiration, as it happened, came from across the Atlantic.  As he explained, “I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young, healthy child well nourished is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee, or a ragout.”

Inspired in turn by Swift, I want to suggest that we put in motion a similar undertaking: on January 16th, Martin Luther King Day, citizens from around the country should gather at the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street.  Let’s call this macabre gathering—with luck and even worse times, it should be mammoth—“We Surrender” or “Restore Debtor’s Prisons” or “De-Fault Is Ours” or “Collateralize Us.”  And plan on a mirthful day of mourning.

The basic idea is that we offer ourselves up, 99% of us anyway, on the altar of high finance as a sacrifice to the bond markets.  It was Karl Marx who first observed that high finance is “the Vatican of capitalism.”  How right he turned out to be—right with a vengeance!

The Death of Democracy

Whole governments, democratically elected, are collapsing, or abdicating on orders from our secular version of the papacy.  Who will weep for the passing of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi?  Not many, surely.  Still, it’s appalling that, in Italy as in Greece, governing authority has been usurped by technocrats, elected by no one, answerable only to the European institutions of high finance that installed them in power.

At last count, eight governments of the European Union have come and gone, suffering the wrath of our new god.  Other European governments barely hang on and scurry to curry favor with the bond market, proposing in effect to eat their own children and the futures of 99% of their people, if that’s what it takes to make high finance happy.  More will follow.  By the time this piece was published, who would be surprised if yet another government had bitten the dust?

What about here in the U.S.A.?  That capitalism and democracy go together (like love and marriage in that old song) has been the imperial boast conveyed to the rest of the world by American banks and diplomats and presidents and Marines for a century—and more recently, by crony capitalist outfits like KBR and predator drones.  Today, at home and abroad that particular gospel seems a sorry piece of hypocrisy.  Capitalism has become a synonym for—to use an old word on its way back just in time—plutocracy, not democracy.  The Obama administration like the Bush administration before it, and the one before that, and the one before that, has bent its knee to “the Vatican of capitalism.”

Take Our Children, Please!

Anticipating Swift, we are already eating our own children or, at least, the futures available to them.  My suggestion is to make the most of that reality.

When we assemble on January 16th, we should arrive as supplicants, bringing the deeds to our homes, if we still have them.  We could come dressed as credit-default swaps or collateralized debt obligations.  (Use your imagination!)

You’ll want to turn in your subprime mortgage documents.  And do you really need that mobile home or tent?  And certainly, you’ll want to offer up your children to Wall Street if they’re young enough to make a “delicious” and nourishing meal.  If a bit older, haul along that creaky swing-set from your backyard, or dilapidated blackboards and outmoded computer consoles from your child’s underfunded, disintegrating school.  Bring with you the paints, recorders, and stage props once used by art, music, and theater teachers, but made superfluous when their programs were cut by schools too poor to afford them.

If your children are older still, and waterlogged from the college loans that put them “underwater” before they even had their first jobs, why not donate those debts as securitized gifts to the Street?  Better yet: give back their college diplomas.

If you can, cart along vats of heating oil or coal bins to symbolize the winter fuel that you can no longer afford.  (Thank god for global warming!)  Declare yourself undocumented or at the very least “undeserving” (a prematurely retired and wonderfully apt word used by the 1% back in the late nineteenth century to describe those who apparently preferred starving to working).  Turn in your food stamps and unemployment insurance checks.

If you happen to have a job, return it or tithe a portion of your wages or pension for the cause. 


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IMax's avatar

By IMax, December 2, 2011 at 3:08 am Link to this comment


How many working families do you estimate will be harmed financially by closing every shipping port on the West Coast? Ten Million? Twenty-five million? More?

Please try to answer the question and not change the subject, OldG.

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By lane08, December 1, 2011 at 11:41 pm Link to this comment

Gerard—I do get it. My comment was shorthand for the current situation of
constant violent evictions, neighborhood people (members of the 99) being
afraid of them, the winter coming, the story falling off the front pages except
for the police riots to get rid of them. The support for these urban tent
occupations, as they are now constituted, is falling.

After only 2 months, they have been immensely effective and its time to face
the winter with new tactics and events.

Alternatively, it may be time to change venues—perhaps focusing on only DC
itself. K street, the Capital etc. And clearly the occupations of colleges is
continuing to work at a high level.

The goal is deep systemic change, and an economic revolution. Our tactics have
to constantly change to meet the forces trying to keep the status quo. It seems
counterproductive for us to do the same thing over and over if it is not being as
effective as it once was.

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By YoungGringos, December 1, 2011 at 3:26 pm Link to this comment

Your deep concern for the working stiff is noted.

Let me guess, you’re more worried about a few public lawns being smothered under Occupy tents than the global environment being obliterated for the benefit of the 1%.

Occupy isn’t here to entertain.  This isn’t a flash mob or a passion play.

And the only thing young about me is my name, son.

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By Carol DW, December 1, 2011 at 1:16 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

A bad idea. The irony will be lost along with the message. If you want change, this isn’t the way to do it. You must move the ideas you stand behind forward.
Defiance is the appropriate tool for rejecting corporate dominance. The 1% fear it and refusal is what is required.

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By gerard, December 1, 2011 at 12:47 pm Link to this comment

lane08:  If you seriously thing that OWS has just been"arguing over real estate” you are missing the essence of the movement.  Look at articles on and for much more.

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Sandy Berman's avatar

By Sandy Berman, December 1, 2011 at 6:35 am Link to this comment

I wouldn’t put it past the banksters to accept the offer.. but ONLY if the kids were
made into a paté first.

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IMax's avatar

By IMax, December 1, 2011 at 5:46 am Link to this comment

YoungGringos, - I have a better idea. How about we shut down every port on the West coast on December 12th?


I have to wonder if YoungG holds any concern, any concern at all, for the massive suffering this “better” idea will cause to working families. Or is forcing large numbers of people to suffer for a cause the point entire?

Perhaps this young person has no real notion of just how horrific his idea is?

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By Marian Griffith, December 1, 2011 at 12:38 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)


While it is true that the new governments of Greece and Italy have not been directly elected, calling them answerable only to the financial institutions and the ECB is really REALLY not correct.

The Greek government is one of national unity. That is, it contains all (major) parties in its members.
The Italian government attempted to do the same but Italy’s political parties could not bring themselves to cooperate even when faced with a crisis that threatened to bankrupt the country. So the new prime minister, who was appointed to that post by the president same as any other prime minister in that country, opted for unaffiliated specialists in their respective fields to try and cut through the political obstruction. This is why the Italians find they are still paying a high interest rate on the refinancing of their national debt (their debtors have strong doubts the Italian politicians are serious about doing something about the deplorable state of the economy).

However, BOTH governments are subject to democratic oversight through their parliaments. They do not have the power to dictate. Every law and regulation they propose will still have to be approved by the democratically elected representatives of the population.

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By YoungGringos, December 1, 2011 at 12:17 am Link to this comment

I have a better idea.
How about we shut down every port on the West coast on December 12th?

Mark your calendars.

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By lane08, November 30, 2011 at 10:04 pm Link to this comment

This is like an idea I’ve been thinking of for some time, because I believe OWS
has to move on from just arguing over real estate and start doing one time
events that are highly theatrical and very educational.

The idea is to have a national Economic Prisoner of War Exchange. On this day
we trade 1000 Nurses for one Lobbyist. 5000 teachers for one Goldman Sachs
exec. 1000 children for one Congressman who blocked health care. Well, I
don’t have the details all worked out and the names of the Oligarchs we’re
trading for would have to be researched and voted on in a General Assembly.
But you get the idea. There woudl be an “exchange” in cities across the country
all at the same time.

It’s based on Eisenhower’s Humanity Hung on a Cross of Iron Speech in which
he talked about how many schools each bomber would pay for, how many
hospitals each weapon prevents from being built etc.

This POW exchange would teach many Americans a lot of facts they aren’t now
getting from network news and make the cost of income inequality very

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By Textynn, November 30, 2011 at 9:45 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hey you could own everything if you could print all the money you needed to buy everything and put everyone else in debt.  The answer is ...end the FEd… and end a select few having the ability to print themselves all the money they will ever need to buy the rest of us out. 

This article bows to this fraudulent system and acts like these people are deserving of their wealth. The are no more deserving than any counterfeiters.

How about us ending the Fed and quit letting inbred families who have been doing this for centuries rule our lives.

Here’s an awesome video on FED RESERVE topic.  Amazing

foresight BY Aaron Russo .

SEe DEnnis Kucinich HR 2990
End the FED

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By gerard, November 30, 2011 at 7:11 pm Link to this comment

Now here’s a guy with some fire in his belly! Maybe things are coming together, what with OWS spreading the 99 to 1 message in the streets, and a few intellectually qualified and experienced men like Frazer spreading information in a language people can understand.
  How much longer can these elite cowards hide under their desks? And how much longer can Congress be bought with what, in an age with more “spunk”, was called “filthy lucre”? 
  You have to live 100 years and go through two major “economic meltdowns” and see four or five major wars used as attempts to “stimulate growth”  at the cost of millions of lives to really appreciate capitalism!

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