The Occupy Wall Street protests began last month
in New York and have spread to other cities as spontaneous demonstrations
against corporate piracy, greed and excessive profiteering among corporate
Such movements have sprouted throughout American
history whenever big business gets so big that it ignores common Americans. The
progressive movement in the early 1900s was, in many ways, a reaction to
exploitation of workers, unchecked growth and greed, and a yearning for
It took coordinated government action and the
emergence of the organized labor movement to address the injustices enough to
stop the demonstrations. By the time the Great Depression came in the 1930s,
we'd had labor riots and food riots and anti-government riots.
Thirty years later, Americans took to the
streets to protest discrimination.
The marches led by Martin Luther King, Jr. and
others were non-violent. The response from the government, in many cases,
involved water cannons, attack dogs and billy clubs.
Before these protests ended, riots occurred in
dozens of American cities, causing hundreds of deaths and billions of dollars
in property damage. Many of the affected urban areas have still not recovered
from the 1960s riots. Travel to parts of Chicago and Detroit and you'll see burned-out
buildings from that era.
The Occupy protests have not yet turned violent
and, hopefully, never will.
But protests by average Americans against the
excesses of big business are hardly rare in our history and, quite often, have
helped spur change.
Predictably, members of the Republican Party,
whose policies of deregulation helped cause this global crisis, are outdoing
each other in condemning these protests.
Pizza executive Herman Cain, who inexplicably
finds himself a leading contender for the Republican nomination for president,
took the hardest line possible in an interview on Sunday.
He told CBS News, "It's anti-American
because to protest Wall Street and the bankers is basically saying that you're
anti-capitalism. The free market system and capitalism are the two things that
have allowed this nation and this economy to become the biggest in the world.
Even though we have our challenges, I believe the protests are more
anti-capitalism and anti-free market than anything else."
By his measure, the protesters are
"jealous" that others have Cadillacs and they do not.
On the same program, former House Speaker Newt
Gingrich called the protests an inevitable side effect of what he described as
President Obama's "class warfare."
The Tea Party protesters, by contrast, are
freedom fighters seeking to rein in an uncontrolled government hellbent on
bankrupting the country and therefore, are fighting a noble cause.
Gingrich and Cain said nothing when teabaggers
spit on Congressman John Lewis, a hero of the civil rights movement, nor have
they condemned the sometimes violent, always racially charged rhetoric of the
Tea Party movement.
Both the Occupy protesters and the teabaggers
have a guaranteed freedom to protest against their government. But the Tea
Party is a group financed by billionaires and given publicity and encouragement
by the mainstream conservative media, led by billionaire Rupert Murdoch and
millionaire Rush Limbaugh.
In other words, the Tea Party movement was
manufactured by the richest 2 percent of Americans and seeks policies that
benefit that same 2 percent. Rarely have Americans been so willing to fight for
the rights of rich people to become even wealthier.
The comparison that immediately comes to mind is
the estimated 60,000 to 90,000 freedmen and slaves who fought for the South in
Civil War on the theory that slavery brought them a higher standard of living
than would freedom.
One group is advocating more freedoms for
corporations and another is holding them accountable. One group wants to punish
the president for trying to keep the global financial crisis from destroying
any notion of fair-market capitalism in America; the other wants to keep
letting him fight for us.
One group is marching in support of the spirit
of Robert La Follette, Theodore Roosevelt and Dr. King. The other is aligned
with billionaire industrialists who will do anything to keep all but a very
tiny piece of the economic pie for themselves.
The ongoing debate, now and in the run up to
next year's presidential elections, is which philosophy is more authentically
American: economic justice for all or greater leeway for corporate America's
plundering of U.S. wealth.
The answer will define what kind of America we
All the while, a much larger question looms:
whether a greed-driven, soak-the-poor nation is even worth preserving.
It is not overdramatic to say the very existence
of the United States is at stake.