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Time to Start Preoccupying Wall Street
Posted on Dec 9, 2011
A final virtue of this proposal would be the way it so vividly lends itself to narrative elaboration. From the start, reporters would be tracing the upward arc of the organizing dynamic. They wouldn’t be able to help themselves—this is storytelling catnip. A few hundred signatures the first week, a few thousand the week after, suddenly several tens of thousands more. Were sufficient signatures to be gathered before the deadline, the odds are the signers would never even be called upon to make good on their threat, so spooked would the financial powers that be have become at the prospect.
On top of all that, such a plan would constitute a recovery of the great American tradition of direct action, running as it does from the true Founding Fathers (with their actual tea party and then a declaration of independence in which they chose to address the world at large rather than any longer bother addressing the king, let alone his mere representatives) through Shays’ Rebellion (Shays in that sense having been another of the Founding Fathers), the Jacksonian movements, on through the Populist movements of the Gilded 1880s-’90s (which began with farmers creating granges and other work-arounds to undercut the railroad monopolies and industrial workers uniting to wrest back some measure of control from the robber barons) and then again the FDR era (Hoovervilles, etc.) and the civil rights and Vietnam era actions.
As was the case with FDR, the point would not be to overthrow capitalism so much as to save it from itself, to usher in a more humane capitalism and specifically to address the yawning wealth gap that has so dramatically come to deform our current period. Much as the Republican eminence grise Grover Norquist’s strategy has been to starve the beast (to undermine tax revenues so relentlessly that government has no choice but to contract), ours ought to be to create a situation the only way out of which would be a vast realignment of wealth and resources. (There would likely be no way the banks could meet the sudden shortfalls occasioned by meeting all those loan demands short of government rescue, and no way the government in turn could provide such relief without substantial wealth taxes.)
Thinking more long-term: The U.S. political system is completely rigged against the formation of third parties, but eventually (though only long-term, not right now), the strategy could be for the resultant movement to take over one of the dead husks of one of the superannuated political parties (much as the Populists ended up doing with the Democratic Party under William Jennings Bryan).
Square, Site wide
But in order to be successful, such an effort would finally have to overcome the specter of racial politics that has so bedeviled American history to date. One of the main reasons the Populists ultimately failed with Bryan is that the rich were able to pit poor whites against disenfranchised blacks. Had those poor whites made common cause with their black counterparts, among other things demanding their immediate re-enfranchisement, the resultant votes could well have put Bryan over the top. Similarly, the only way FDR was able to push through his New Deal legislation was through an alliance of congressional Northern liberals and Southern racist committee chairmen, one premised on agreement that any serious addressing of the scandal of Jim Crow segregation in the South would be put off for yet another generation. And surely, as has often been noted, a good part of the impetus behind the current tea party has been white panic at the sight of a black president. But another of the nice things about the loan strike strategy is precisely the fact that there are as many underwater loans and dependent children groaning under the weight of egregious student debt amongst the tea party folk as anybody else. A loan strike movement could have the collateral benefit of peeling off substantial portions of the tea party (helping some of its members at long last to see the way they’ve been lashed into acting against their own financial interests), such that we might at long last be verging on a moment when the curse of race politics in America could finally be superseded.
The point, in sum, is for all of us, holding fast to self-evident truths, to move beyond merely occupying Wall Street and to start preoccupying Wall Street, to unsettle the nights of its denizens and to wend our way into their dreams. And the time to be doing so is now.
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