Which Side Are You On!
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. 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.”
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