Thursday, October 27, 2011

Return To Hooverville

It was the laissez faire economic strategy of Herbert Hoover that led to the implosion of the United States economy after the crash of the Stock Market in 1929. It was his ambivalence toward government intervention and his unwillingness to use government to aid American citizens that caused the country to slide into depression. The most he could muster was begging and pleading with businesses to stop laying off workers, but at the time, it was everyone for themselves. When World War I veterans marched on Washington, D.C. in 1932 (the "Bonus Army") and demanded redemption of their service certificates, so they might use the money to survive, Hoover ordered General Douglas MacArthur to clear them out of their encampment, one of the derisively-named "Hoovervilles." A cavalry charge and gassing later, fifty-five veterans were injured; one hundred thirty-five were arrested. One 12-week-old child died after the gas attack.

Flash forward to 2011, when an economic malaise brought about by a collapse of the housing market engineered by Wall Street, leads to demonstrations across the nation. Occupy Wall Street brings forth collections of the disenfranchised and desperate, making the displeasure heard through civil disobedience, in cities all throughout the nation. They want The Monied Powers and their retainers to see the damage they have done to the American Dream, and they want government to recognize that it has failed them, failing to protect them and their livelihoods and their finances from the rapacious greed of the money-changers on Wall Street. Then, last night, October 26th, the mayor of Oakland, Jean Quan, gives her tacit approval for the Chief of Police to move in and drive out the protesters, which he chooses to do by assembling overwhelming force and using tear gas, rubber bullets, and flash grenades. The attack leads to dozens of arrests, and the hospitalization of a two-tour Iraq veteran, who had managed to survive that war without a scratch before being assaulted with a teargas canister, leading to serious head trauma and a trip to the hospital in critical condition.

Those who do not learn the lessons of history...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Previously Occupied

I know some have questioned the motivations behind some of the protesters in Occupy Wall Street. Why should they feel they automatically win something by going to college, getting a degree, holding down a job, owning a home? The word “entitlement” is bandied about a lot, as if this is some whiny lot of panhandlers complaining about the change they get standing outside the bus station. It’s not that at all. Far from a movement, in the classic sense, it is a message: "We are the people whose lives have been disrupted by the machinations of Wall Street and Washington, D.C. in the name of greed and power and we're not happy about it."

For all that many would tarnish these protesters, claiming they are shirkers, layabouts, and well-dressed panhandlers, the members of Occupy Wall Street have a valid concern: the rules have been changed to favor those who are already wealthy and secure, at the expense of those seeking to join that circle. No one is saying that the desire to earn money, be wealthy, and have personal security is in the absolute, wrong; that is the goal of the vast majority of Americans. What is being said is that The Monied Powers and their minions are seeking to create exclusivity, to deny those self-same Americans the fruits of honest labor, and attempting to insulate themselves from their responsibility to the rest of humanity, as if they are somehow "above" us.

This nation's history has been driven on the ideals of freedom and independence of the individual, of hard work leading to greater rewards, of investment in the improvement of the standard of living. Those ideals were rolled into the “American Dream,” the idea that every American should become a landowner, should reap the benefits of their hard work, and become personally enriched through perseverance and sound financial management. It’s a wonderful dream, and it is obtainable, in theory; the problem comes when those who manage the systems under which the dream is pursued change the rules or alter the systems in ways that only seek to enrich themselves, and not the vast majority of Americans. Where greed is unfettered, the 99% suffer.

These people had expectations, based on what they were taught by their parents, what they were told in school, what the pundits and prognosticators kept pouring into the airwaves. Work hard. Get an education. Buy a home. Those were supposed to be some of the keys to success. And they were… until Washington, D.C. and Wall Street rigged the game. Not unlike a casino, The Monied Powers and their minions have stacked the odds in their favor, and shed not a tear for the long, sad stream of gamblers who wander away from the table bereft of what little they had and indebted for more than they can hope to make.

It isn’t about entitlement. It isn’t even about fairness. It’s about a level playing field. It’s about economic systems being controlled and regulated so that everyone, regardless of their economic status, can play and have an equal chance at success. As long as our government allows the economy to be run in the current fashion, the 99% have no hope of making the headway they should be making, given their efforts. Occupy Wall Street is the cry of the ultimate oppressed majority, people of every stripe who are tired of playing by a set of rules that only favor those who already have wealth. If this country is to operate as it should, everyone should have an equal chance at success — any other way, and we are doomed to a slow, choking, violent death.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The One Hundred Percent

Numbers are bandied about continuously to make a point in the Information Age. Statistics, percentages, tallies, proportions, and the like are becoming the drivers of social change, the mirrors behind which truth is hidden, the towers in which power is created and kept, and the walls that keep groups separated. Even now, across the globe, a battle line is being drawn between the ninety-nine percent of the population that is suffering under the economic and social oppression of the other one percent, in which is invested great wealth and greater power.

While it is all well-and-good to be cognizant of the disparities and divisions that are the heart of our current place in human history, the polarization effected by numerical comparisons in any number of axes, far from delineating and defining the problems and potential solutions of those problems, serves to only increase the divisiveness and demonization extant in human societies all over the planet. If our conscience and social change are to be driven by numbers, then there are only two numbers that should truly count: one and one hundred.