A Protest Becomes A Movement…And It Fights Back

by George Kennedy on November 5, 2011

 

A Protest Becomes a Movement… and it Fights Back

The most potent weapon against the forces of greed, corruption, and failed leadership in a democracy is the wrath of an abused citizenry. Moreover, an engaged citizenry is the most effective antidote to a corporatocracy that is a malignant and metastasizing cancer at the heart of American society. This corporatocracy – now referred to as the 1 percent – was no stranger. The hard truth is that the average American was preoccupied balancing a plate of other more urgent priorities against the immediacy of the threat posed by that ravenous 1 percent in their midst.

Some of the 1 percent has privately wondered, what was it about the Occupy Wall Street Movement (OWS) that ignited passions on such a broad scale; that stimulated a universal desire to fight back that other events could not? Any honest observer will recognize that the 1 percent committed the unpardonable sin of destroying hope. Absent hope, the average American is adrift without compass or a paddle. Hope is life to those in combat wanting to return to loved ones; it is life to the 99ers after posting a hundred resumes with no success; it is life to the frightened college graduate with a degree in one hand and loans totaling over 20 thousand dollars in the other with few prospects for a job.

The middle class, or the 99 percent, is weary of the corporate boot on their neck. They well understand that democracy does not exist when it comes to the American economy. Americans are the most hopeful people on the planet. Customarily, they do not riot, stage coups against their elected leadership or flog those whose willingness to inflict egregious harm on society is without limit.

Americans did not take to the streets because of the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the illegal torture and imprisonment of detainees in Guantanamo, the illegal domestic wiretaps, tax-payer-financed bailouts of Wall Street, and billions in bonuses to retain the “talents” of those who contributed to the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The gravity of each event deserved a greater public reaction than we experienced here at home because each event had far-reaching consequences (some unforeseen) for a compliant public. You could even say we as a society earned the abuse of our trust because we trust those we elect to lead.

To suggest that the 1 percent destroyed hope is a powerful indictment – which it is. The indictment, however, has the facts on its side. American corporations shipped American jobs abroad under the guise of globalization. The American worker complained and adapted because that is what they do. They retrained for those much ballyhooed “jobs of the 21st century” that did not pay a living wage nor did they offer benefits; they reset their skills as President Bush advised when workers complained, and they reapplied for other opportunities. Corporate leadership knew they would so no surprises or threats to their continued outsourcing.

President George W. Bush, the finance industry, and mortgage lenders encouraged home ownership knowing that is the most cherished of the American dreams – to own a piece of the rock. In fact, mortgage lenders made it impossible not to own. Wall Street money managers and the banking industry hedged their bets, bet against millions of new homeowners in the derivatives market and collapsed the housing industry while making billions from the wreckage. And then they blamed new home owners for the collapse of the market since accountability does not rank among the 1 percent’s short list of attributes.

As home foreclosures reached record levels and residential property values fell through the floor, the 1 percent insisted that home owners honor their obligation to pay their mortgages while Wall Street took taxpayer bailouts and foreclosed on hundreds of thousands of homeowners when they missed a payment – often because the homeowner did not know which financial institution held their mortgage. Again, true to character, thousands of hapless victims complained, absorbed the loss and moved on. Many homeowners actually agonized over their inability to meet their obligations because; you see, Americans are taught from childhood to be responsible.

If the 1 percent is still wondering why the 99 percent say democracy does not exist when it comes to the American economy, here is further food for thought: Trading in complex, risk-laden financial instruments had the calamitous result of wiping out many corporate pension plans thus destroying the retirement dreams of two generations of the middle class.

The 1 percent and their acolytes in the Congress insisted that the social safety net (Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) was the principal driver behind the national debt; that it was a drain on the economy, and that contributions to Social Security and the oversight of the Social Security Trust Fund should devolve to the capable hands of Wall Street’s financial institutions for more adroit management.

Also, that new contributions to the Trust Fund should be through private accounts. Moreover, let’s not forget their Congressional handmaidens and the current contenders for the Republican presidential nomination insisted any revenue gaps could be bridged through austerity measures and if the average American just paid more taxes on their non-existent job while corporations withheld two trillion dollars in profits offshore because their tax rate, although lower than most in the middle class, was too onerous? The avarice of the 1 percent spawned the Occupy Wall Street Movement, but they were on a roll – so why quit?

The 1 percent is not anything if they are not bold so, why not create a buffer between themselves and the eventuality someone might raise a question or two at some distant point in the future? With their billions in personal and corporate wealth, they bought the Congressional leadership they needed and spread the wealth to the current occupant in the White House as an insurance policy. The list of accomplishments of the 1 percent to improve the condition of the middle class in this country is too lengthy to cite here. This is no more than a brief summary of the highlights that planted the seeds for the OWS. The OWS is the 1 percent’s new birthright. They should get used to them. The simple fact is, the 1 percent destroyed hope in America.

The OWS is now a movement, not just a small band of “miscreants, communists, and neer-do-wells” as many so derisively label them. The OWS may not be the Achilles Heel the 1 percent dreads, but they certainly are that uncomfortable stone in their shoe. Here is the future the 1 percent has publicly prescribed for the OWS and the rest of the 99 percent they represent:

Higher taxes,
More personal and family debt,
Fewer job and career prospects,
A drastically reduced standard of living,
A low quality public education,
College degrees for a younger generation with a lifetime of debt attached without opportunities to launch a good career, and
A substandard quality of life.

As we enter the second decade of the 21st century, where is the hope that inspired generations of Americans to struggle, plan, achieve, and, hopefully, prosper? The 1 percent failed to appreciate the power of hope to distract the 99 percent from their need to plunder and exploit the economy. Americans did not begrudge the wealth of the 1 percent; they were too distracted by more mundane responsibilities such as “building a life, raising families, and being responsible.”

Well, when the 1 percent eliminated these distractions, the middle class could now focus on the cause – the 1 percent. Just for a moment, if the 1 percent could set aside their philosophical blinders, it is readily apparent that three generations of American workers do not take to the streets because they seek a recreational outlet. To the 99 percent, this protest, this movement is life and death and tomorrow and the future.

When millions of middle class jobs were eliminated, American workers lost more than a means to sustain life. They also lost the one thing that for many was their identity, a source of pride; something that confers a measure of dignity, and the thing that gave meaning to fundamental values and served as an intergenerational bridge to upward mobility and prosperity.

The best hope for the 1 percent, and naturally the larger community, is that the OWS movement must grow. It is our collective best hope because all of us have to co-exist in the space we call America. The American people are the key to the salvation of this country, not the corporate and the power elite. The OWS is increasingly intergenerational because what the 1 percent prescribed is the bitter pill of unemployment and an uncertain future each generation alive today must swallow.

For the rest of the 99 percent and the OWS, the 1 percent has launched the war they must fight; the war for “real change in how, and for whom, business is done in Washington.” This is not the war the 1 percent would have them fight in perhaps an Iran, a Syria, or our enduring military engagement in Afghanistan. The war for hope, change, and a future is the war Americans choose to fight. It is not a sexy war but it is life-enhancing.

The average supporter of the OWS Movement also understands the desire of the 1 percent that they pit themselves against each other on the basis of ideology or other narrow interests thus allowing the corporate media to frame the narrative of their response in terms that absolve the 1 percent of any responsibility. The OWS Movement has learned the value of framing their own narrative. No, the word on the street and in an increasing number of communities has to be solidarity. The avarice of the 1 percent launched the war the 99 percent will suit up for, the war that is worthy of continuing struggle.

Without faith, without hope, tomorrow is without meaning. Without dreams, new generations lack inspiration. Without a rebirth of our society, we cease to exist as Americans.

George Kennedy

George Kennedy is a retired senior Foreign Service officer with extensive international experience. He holds a B.A. from the University of Oregon and two graduate degrees from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. Mr. Kennedy was a political advisor to state and federal officials and has authored strategy pieces for Members of Congress and presidential candidates. He serves on the Advisory Board for the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Arizona.

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