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Which Side Are You On!

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Posted on Oct 13, 2011
© Jeff Pappas

By Richard Reeves

I am all for Occupy Wall Street—and a lot of other places—but I wish I understood where this is going. And why it took so long to get going.

"When men can speak in liberty, you can bet they won’t act," a Philadelphia lawyer named Charles Ingersoll told Alexis de Tocqueville almost 200 years ago as the French writer traveled the United States (24 of them) taking notes for what would become his great work, "Democracy in America."

The United States has followed that line for most of its history, and it has generally worked. Because of Ingersoll’s words, I was chilled a bit by the fact that New York City has denied the Occupy people the liberty of a sound system to allow them to speak to more than just the people within earshot.

Does the government want to mute the cries of the "99 percenters"? That would be a great mistake, and I’m sure officials around the country know that. As a veteran of both civil rights and anti-Vietnam protests, I know that when authority uses all the powers at its disposal—including shooting people—that is when the rebellion begins. That was what Ingersoll was talking about.

This is not Syria. If the police and their bosses use force against these people in these troubled times, they will reap the whirlwind. So far, the closest historical parallel to these pained cries of people—people who are losing their livelihoods, even the fabric of their lives—is the Bonus March of 1931, when World War I veterans marched on Washington during the administration of Herbert Hoover and camped out around the city to demand early payment of their bonuses. They were dismissed as a rabble, as Occupiers are beginning to be branded now. The 1931 protest ended in violence. Troops commanded by Army Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur charged on horses into the veterans’ "Hoovervilles," driving the protesters from the city.

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In fairness, Hoover had ordered the Army not to use violence, but in the aftermath he said: "Thank God we still have a government in Washington that knows how to deal with a mob."

In New York, listening to the radio, the governor of the state, Franklin D. Roosevelt, turned to a friend and talked big change.

"Felix," said Roosevelt to Felix Frankfurter, "this elects me president."

If this confusing movement has the momentum, and the government—local, state and federal—has to confront the Occupiers, it will change the politics of the country. People will have to choose sides: order or change.

This may be a momentary thing, a flash in the pan, but the pan is hot, people are hurting, and they do believe they are being robbed by the top 1 percent. The income of the middle class is falling as a few bankers and such are making more than ever—even though they were a big cause of the collapse of the national economy.

This is powerful stuff. American stuff. Steve Lopez, a Los Angeles Times columnist who stayed in the Occupy tent city around Los Angeles City Hall, recorded the messages on some of the placards around him.

"We Are Not Overthrowing a Democracy, We Are Restoring One," said one.

Another quoted Steve Jobs: "The People Who Are Crazy Enough to Think They Can Change the World Are the Ones That Do."

But the most powerful numbers of the day are not 99 and 1. They are something like 20 and 400. When I wrote about Tocqueville in the 1970s, the salary ratio between chief executive officers and their lowest-paid workers was in the 20s. Now it is more than 400 or so, and that doesn’t include bonuses and extended pension plans.

Pay inequality has triggered many a revolution over the centuries. There comes a day when ordinary people have to answer the question:

Which side are you on! Which side are you on!

© 2011 UNIVERSAL UCLICK


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By Susan, October 13, 2011 at 8:49 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’m a baby boomer who sees the writing on the wall. Tonight I went down to Peachtree Street in Atlanta to Occupy Atlanta. Most of these protesters are my children’s age and I’d like to know why more parents aren’t upset that their kids’ futures have been stolen by foreign investors in collusion with our 1% who sold us all out to pad their own pockets. We cling to our low level corporate jobs (the trees) and ignore the future (the forest). And down here in the New South our mayor has vowed to shut things down just as soon as he returns from DC this weekend where he will be honoring Dr. Martin Luther King’s memorial dedication. I have a question for our pro-business mayor - “What Would Martin Do?” I used to wonder what would happen once the American consumers were consumed. Now I know - they pretend we don’t exist.

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MK Ultra's avatar

By MK Ultra, October 13, 2011 at 8:09 pm Link to this comment

“Movements are like this. They are grassroots, often underground, and they start with crazy people who are willing to believe in the impossible. Movements never start in corporate offices with executives drawing up a master plan…if we truly want to see the world changed, we must begin as a band of madmen, welcoming other crazy people who want to be a part of something bigger than themselves.” Neil Cole

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By gerard, October 13, 2011 at 7:29 pm Link to this comment

Re:  Being crazy and changing the world.
  Occupy WallStreeters are not crazy. They are acting in the only way possible for them to get the access to power centers that can help them figure out how they can bring about a more just society . 
  If they had had access before now, there would be no need for them to Occupy Wall Street and elsewhere. But they have been systematically shut out.  They know it, and they are perplexed and angry, but are working together for nonviolent change.
  This is public education in action, and it gives everybody a chance to learn how to function together. If government and corporations are too stupid to learn, that will be a sad day indeed.

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Robespierre115's avatar

By Robespierre115, October 13, 2011 at 4:47 pm Link to this comment

@Billy, right you are, including in your reference to Gandhi (although MLK wasn’t really a revolution, it was a movement that managed to reform the legalized racism of the American system, but the system itself remaind intact). Another important point is that Revolutions are long affairs that take time to birth and form militant, disciplined, organized movements with sharp leadership, goals, alternative proposals etc. Remember that Russia had its first 20th century revolution in 1905. So OWS could be planting the seeds for something that will fully sprout later on.

A note on the article: When people are quoting Steve Jobs in the fight against the current system…well, good luck LOL.

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Billy Pilgrim's avatar

By Billy Pilgrim, October 13, 2011 at 4:31 pm Link to this comment

The powerful don’t give up their power unless they
are forced. Revolutions are bloody affairs. Even when
the revolutionaries are pacifists, like Gandhi and
King were, they won because of the violence that was
done to them and their supporters. So there is no
such thing as a bloodless revolution. If anything in
this country is to change, if the 99% are to take
this country back, it will not be at the ballot box.
That can come later. Unless the 1% blink, wake up and
realize what’s going on, I’m afraid that there will
be violence. I sincerely hope that I’m wrong;
however, history does have a way of repeating itself.
As Faulkner said: “The past is not dead; it’s not
even past

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