Why Not Them?: What The Occupy Movement Means
I do not expect Social Security to be around for me to receive money from when I reach the qualifying age, and that is hardly an expectation unique to me among my peers.
I bring up these two seemingly random points because the connection between them helps explain why the Occupy movement is here now, and what it is really against. I should expect the full social safety net living in a rich liberal democracy, and the influence pulling it away is the same influence that is bringing the Occupiers to the forefront. The invisible hand of the market has reached too far, and those naturally affected by this have come out to push back.
Over 1,000 Occupy LA protesters gathered at City Hall Park late Sunday, some chanting, most milling about, awaiting the response from local law enforcement as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s 12:01 am deadline to leave approached.
Near a small group of purple-clad SEIU members, a handful of red-shirted National Nurses United people held a few feet of 1st street sidewalk. I particularly appreciated the nurses’ nuanced signs calling for a financial transactions tax, which is good policy and the type of non-flashy but impactful achievement Occupy protesters could win.
Antonio Villaraigosa may not be "Occupy Man of the Year," but he’s not Scrooge or even Mitt Romney. In fact, he used to be a labor union organizer with a policy agenda not entirely dissimilar from that of many gathered at City Hall Park.
A union spokeswoman at one of the open microphones was working the crowd around her into a moderate frenzy, talking about how “the occupiers are capturing the imagination of this country,” and it was easy to imagine a younger Villaraigosa (or even Obama) in that same role.
Now it seems inevitable that our elected officials, including those with seemingly strong liberal/progressive credentials, end up playing for the other team. There were plenty of signs supporting the idea that the mayor, in effect, chose corporations over the protesters, and reneged on his previous support for the Occupy movement for that reason.
“You basically have to sell yourself out in order to get elected to office,” said retired United States Marine Brian Seligman, before rattling off a series of changes he’d like to see, from public campaign financing to the repeal of Citizens United and reinstatement of Glass-Steagall- a nuanced take designed to address the influence of large financial corporations in politics.
Criticism that the Occupy movement does not know the basics of what it wants is unfair. The protesters want to end a system where it seems like rich Wall Street types can buy politicians who let them pull all kinds of financial shenanigans as well as straight up gamble with other people’s money with minimal regulation, and get bailed out by the politicians they own when they go a little too hard on the gas and crash the economy. Plenty of them, like the nurses and Seligman, are happy to articulate specific policies that seek to address holes in the system that allowed some of these things to happen.
In a world in which even young progressive stars like Antonio Villaraigosa and Barack Obama were forced into some unavoidable unholy alliances just to get to their prominent positions, the stage was set to be Occupied.
The Occupy movement does not seek to overthrow an entire political and economic system like many of the Arab Spring protests; it wants to rebalance and reorient power, which is the type of social movement against a rich and powerful aristocracy that has been a cyclically recurring thing throughout the history of human civilization.
They want to work within the framework and not abolish it, which they are happy to tell you themselves.
“It’s about protecting the Constitution domestically,” Seligman said. This sentiment was not out of place amid numerous shouts defending the First Amendment right to peaceably assemble.
These are not a bunch of outlaw-protesters. They want to play by the rules, in fact, the highest rules in the land. They aren’t the counterculture; they are the counterweight.
I’ll give the last word to one of the architects of our political system: “I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.” – Thomas Jefferson, January 30, 1787.
Chek out our Occupy L.A. Live Blog here.
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