People spending their free time camping out in protest of the wealthiest one percent share more in common with that top one percent than with the bottom one percent with whom they wish more to be shared in common. One needn’t rely on visuals of the protestors’ Cabela tents or iPhones. The Daily Caller has examined the arrest records of hundreds of Occupy Wall Street demonstrators and found that they live in homes with a median value of $305,000 versus the national median of $185,000. The median rent for apartments listed by OWS arrestees was $1,850.
The revelation is supposed to be counterintuitive—except that it isn’t. Movements speaking for the poor have always been led by the very rich. Whether it’s the guilt trip, free time, or self-importance fostered by opulence, the affluent have historically been behind attempts to tell other wealthy people how to use their money. Occupy Wall Street isn’t an outlier in this regard. It is in line with past cash-movements passing themselves off as mass-movements.
The Weathermen imagined themselves the vanguard of a global revolution that would culminate with “the achievement of a classless world: world communism.” But they came from the very class they aimed to eradicate. Diana Oughton, who died in Weatherman’s ill-fated Greenwich Village bomb-factory in 1970, grew up on a palatial Illinois estate with servants, a goose pond, a deer park, and a 100-foot-high windmill. Oughton’s boyfriend Bill Ayers, the son of the chairman of Commonwealth Edison, received an allowance as he implored others to “bring the revolution home, kill your parents.” Kathy Boudin, later convicted of murder, grew up in the townhouse whose façade appeared on The Cosby Show to convey the affluence of the fictional family that resided within. If they had really wanted to spread the wealth, they could have started with their own.
John Reed, the first American to be buried on the grounds of the Kremlin, paid bullies to leave him alone as a child and later used his father’s money to attend Harvard, where he served as a cheerleader. The fledgling playboy traveled Europe on his father’s dime after graduation, paying top dollar for booze, women, and even dinner for dogs in an ugly-American exhibition of restaurant gaudiness. Before he embraced the idea of spending other people’s money through Communism, he made a practice of it. Who says a spokesman for the workingmen needs to have done a day’s work?
Even the 19th-Century Populists who spoke for “the people” weren’t men of the people. People’s Party Congressman Jerry Simpson, the so-called Sockless Socrates, worked employees long hours as he paid them meager wages. Sockless Jerry made a political career railing against the railroads. He finished it by accepting a job with the Santa Fe line. Prince of Cranks Ignatius Donnelly had served as a lobbyist for Jay Cooke and James J. Hill and partook in insider trading as a Congressman. William Jennings Bryan’s 1896 running mate on the Populist ticket was Georgia landowner Tom Watson, who historian C. Vann Woodward noted had “more tenants on his land than his grandfather had slaves.” Bryan’s 1896 running mate on the Democrat ticket was Maine banker, shipbuilder, and railroad magnate Arthur Sewell. If the opponents of populism really did seek to crucify mankind on a cross of gold, they might have bought the precious-metal materials from Simpson, Donnelly, and Watson.
Occupy Wall Street’s rhetoric of the 99 percent taking on the 1 percent conveys upon the protestors a moral authority speaking with the voice of the people. They are the masses rebelling against the masters, they seem to say. But as the _Daily Caller_’s examination of their arrest records shows, they are predominantly white and wealthy, like the vague figures they inveigh against. This doesn’t invalidate any specific claims made by Occupy Wall Street. But given the movement’s aversion to specifics, and emphasis on slogans and symbolism, the notion of kids from the leafy suburbs lecturing the rest of America on wealth and poverty seems a bit, well, rich.
Alas, a study of Weatherman, the Populists, Edward Bellamy’s Nationalist Movement, the Fourierist Communes, and so many other share-the-wealth crusades demonstrates how historically pedestrian it is for rich people to speak on behalf of the poor.
Friedrich Engels? Landlord. Robert Owen? Industrialist. George Soros? Financier. John Kerry? Wealthiest Senator. Katrina vanden Heuval? Heiress.
Who occupies Wall Street? Rich kids.
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