On Saturday, New York City Police arrested more than 700 demonstrators of a group calling itself “Occupy Wall Street,” when they stormed the roadway of the Brooklyn Bridge, holding up traffic for more than four hours. In Boston, a crowd of more than 3,000 gathered in Dewey Square, while another demonstration, Take Back the Block, was attended by at least 1,500 people. An Occupy Chicago demonstration of 100 took place in front of the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank, while Occupy Los Angeles demonstrators marched from Pershing Square downtown to City Hall. In San Francisco, six protesters were arrested for a sit-in at Chase Bank. The common thread? Anti-capitalist-inspired class warfare, courtesy of a progressive movement facing electoral Armageddon in 2012.
Much like the protests that took place in the Middle East, these demonstrations have been organized through social media. Occupy Together, a website calling itself “an unofficial hub for all of the events springing up across the country in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street,” is dedicated to providing people “with information about events that are organizing, ongoing, and building across the U.S. as we, the 99%, take action against the greed and corruption of the 1%.” The site contains a listing of states, regions and even countries where demonstrations have either taken place, or are scheduled to take place in the near future. The individual postings of each event contain a website, a Facebook event, a web IRC chat facility and an email program, all designed to provide potential protesters with details and feedback from other demonstrators and demonstrations.
“We are targeting Wall Street, in particular the big banks and corporations,” Rachel Laforest, the executive director of the Right to the City Alliance, which organized the Boston protest, told ABC News. “The goal is to create a national narrative and have it be known how the states are taking state revenues that are being funneled to banks and corporations and then you layer on top of that the fact that they’re not obligated to pay their fair share of taxes, and so that’s billions and billions of dollars that could be put toward job creation and creating solutions to the housing crisis.”
If such a narrative sounds familiar, it’s because president Obama, who can’t possibly run on his economic record, has decided to make class warfare the centerpiece of his re-election campaign. And he has made it clear that it is Republicans in particular–whose worldview he characterized as one in which “corporations write their own rules, and we dismantle environmental regulations and we dismantle labor regulations, and we cut taxes for folks who don’t need it and weren’t even asking for it, and then we say to you, you’re on your own, good luck, because you’re not going to get any help”–who are making life miserable for Americans.
But he also takes on wealthier Americans in general. “If asking a millionaire to pay the same tax rate as a plumber makes me a class warrior, a warrior for the working class, I will accept that,” Obama proclaimed last Tuesday at Denver’s Abraham Lincoln High School. “I will wear that charge as a badge of honor.”
It’s a brand new badge. During the 2008 election campaign, the president was more than willing to take substantial sums of money from the very organizations being targeted today. The list of the top 20 campaign contributors to Obama and Democrats includes Goldman Sachs (whose contributions to the president were exceeded only by the University of California), JP Morgan Chase & Co., Citigroup, and Morgan Stanley, all of whom contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the cause. Furthermore, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, since January 1, 2009, Democrats have received nearly two-thirds of the $34.7 million donated by the entire securities and investment industry. This is even more than the 57 percent of Wall Street’s donations in the 2008 campaign and 52 percent during the 2006 midterm elections that also went to Democrats. Thus, the president’s attempts to brand Republicans as the “party of big business” and Democrats as the “party of the people” amount to nothing more than outright lying.
As for the truth, there is more than a little bit of irony in the fact that these protests are taking place even as Wall Street has suffered through its worst quarter since the financial meltdown of 2008. The S&P declined 14.3 percent, and the Dow was down 10.6 percent. The “evil” banks? They took an even worse beating. JPMorgan was down 45 percent, Morgan Stanley 42 percent, Citigroup 40 percent, Goldman Sachs 39 percent, and Bank of America 37 percent.
None of it matters. In Boston, shouts of “F**k capitalism!” and “Tax the rich!” were yelled, even as speakers rallied against funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and home foreclosures. Another participant bewailed the lack of public housing. “They’re closing down shelters,” said Nicole Sullivan, a self-described poor person. “We can’t get food, we can’t get housing, we can’t get education. What I’m looking for out of Occupy Boston is a way to change it.”
In New York, protesters spoke of “taxing the rich” and overturning the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which deregulated the campaign finance system. Others rallied against corporate greed, global warming and social inequity. In San Francisco, demonstrators held several signs that said, “Make banks pay” and “Take it back. Tax Wall Street,” even as city supervisor and mayoral candidate John Avalos opened up the protest with a speech demanding banks be held accountable for the bailouts they received from the taxpayers.
Yet despite the seeming number of unrelated agendas, there is one unifying theme: Us against Them. But it is Us against Them filtered through the lens of progressivism. Thus, it is no surprise that dedicated leftists such as film maker Michael Moore and actress Susan Sarandon have offered support to the group in New York, along with Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), who showed up for the Brooklyn Bridge demonstration. He didn’t stay long. When he tried to speak, a protester hassled him, and Rangel left. Spokeswoman Hannah Kim denied he was chased away. ”He knows people are frustrated and hurting badly from the financial meltdown,” she said. “He is glad that he went.”
Who hasn’t shown up at these demonstrations? No one among these protesters is suggesting that government, save for “obstructionist” Republicans and most notably the Tea Party, is to blame for the current crisis. No one in this movement has suggested reining in runaway spending, which has gotten the country $14 trillion in debt, or undoing the massive amount of government regulation strangling a business community essentially on strike as a result. And no one is championing public sector employee reform, despite the fact that government worker salaries, pensions and health benefits far exceed those in the private sector, and are blowing holes in state budgets across the nation.
The real agenda? “This is a liberal version of the Tea Party, especially with young people who are getting mobilized and expressing their grievances,“ said Dorian Warren, a Columbia University professor who “specializes in the study of inequality and American politics” according to the university website. “I think this could potentially carry over into the 2012 election and get people to the polls.”
One can only imagine if the Tea Party used the same kind of tactics to get its message across. Prior to the 700 demonstrators who were taken in on Saturday, police had already made at least 80 other previous arrests in New York, including one for assaulting a policeman in another demonstration which took place near Union Square. Authorities were forced to use pepper spray to keep that mob in check. Another 24 protesters were arrested by police at a Bank of America demonstration in Boston on Friday. “These individuals choose to ignore the facts and instead focus on increasingly aggressive PR stunts,” said Bank of America spokesman T.J.Crawford.
That may be by design. One of the complaints being made by the protesters is that they’re not getting enough attention from the mainstream media. Keith Olbermann accused the MSM of hypocrisy, with Michael Moore echoing that sentiment on Olbermann’s Countdown TV show. Thus, it becomes quite possible that the movement may resort to upping its level of obstructionism and/or violence in an effort to garner greater attention from the so-designated “corporate media.” By contrast, this writer searched for stories involving mass arrests of people involved in Tea Party demonstrations, virtually all of which have received substantial levels of media coverage. Ten people were arrested for demonstrating outside Nancy Pelosi’s office on Nov 5th, 2009 during the healthcare debate.
Meanwhile, a core group of protesters remain in Zuccoti Park, where they have created a semi-permanent encampment. Brookfield Office Properties, the real estate firm that owns the park, has released a statement saying that it would like to work with the city to restore the park “to its intended purpose.” Yet as of now, there are no plans to remove anyone, according to police. As a result, approximately 200 people sleep on air mattresses, organize meetings, play with computers, and bang drums. Occasionally, they traipse over to Wall Street and yell, “This is what democracy looks like!”
More like mob rule. And one can only wonder how much further this movement will go. In New York, the United Federation of Teachers and the Transport Workers Union Local 100, which has 38,000 members, have pledged “solidarity” with the protesters, adding to the possibility that they could provide important organizational and financial support–and perhaps muscle as well–to the demonstrators. The prospect of further involvement by organized labor remains a distinct possibility as well, when one recalls Teamster President Jimmie Hoffa’s Labor Day rallying cry. “President Obama, this is your army,” Hoffa said at the time. “We are ready to march. Let’s take these sons of bitches out and give America back to an America where we belong.”
The president didn’t offer a whit of criticism to such ill-tempered remarks. Nor has he said a word about the current protests. If the level of violence and obstructionism ramps up, it will be quite revealing to see if our self-proclaimed Class Warrior-in-Chief is willing to take responsibility for the resultant fallout. Fallout largely engendered by his own ongoing determination to stoke the fires of class warfare.
Or is that credit for it? It is remarkable how far the man who ran on hope and change and uniting Americans in 2008 has fallen in less than three years.
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