If you haven't found yourself caught up in the Occupy movement yet, the best place is in the thick of the action. I went down to Wall Street one night to see for myself. Like many people, if not all, the outcome of the financial crash still rankled. No one can watch the TV coverage of the Occupy America sit-ins and marches without sharing in some kind of frustration and anger.
When you get down there, though, you feel something else. Unlike the Tea Party, the Occupiers are young and idealistic, repeating a time-honored coming of age phase that is being acted out in public. Anyone who has lived through the sixties can stand aside and predict what will happen, because it has happened so often before. Ideals become lost in confusion, cynicism, and hard clashes with authority and other reactionary forces.
But let's not make such predictions. If Occupy America turns anger into awareness, we might get something like a Tea Party for the left. Or even better, a reform movement that marches for an ideal that succeeds. If the Tea Party represents the ornery, "I'm mad as hell, and I won't put up with it anymore" side of America, the Occupiers represent the side that says, "This country stands for justice and equality."
Despite the media coverage of mass arrests, despite the Times's finger-wagging that the movement is often muddled and misinformed, none of that is the point. The point is justice. Unlike the anti-war movement of fifty years ago, now we have a President who believes in justice and equality. It's fashionable to bash President Obama right now, but he has had to make choices between bad and worse, facing an intractable downturn and an opposition that leaves him no breathing room.
If Occupy America can channel its anger into awareness, the next step is to ask, "What is our goal?" When I was down among the demonstrators, I led a meditation on that question, and it seemed to calm down the people around me, which demonstrates, I think, that the whole Occupy movement is about angry idealists, not just people who feel screwed by Wall St., although that is the spark and the point of injustice that somehow must be faced.
Pragmatists claim that one outcome -- a heavily regulated financial sector -- will never happen. The banks were bailed out three years ago, and once they felt strong, they lobbied with all their might to insure that no meaningful regulation would be passed. that is outrageous, of course, and so is the immorality of how Wall St., having caused the crash, continues to take ungodly risks, but now with a government guarantee that they won't fail, no matter how reckless their behavior. Right now Wall St. is the pure culture of money at its most selfish, greedy, and anti-social. If you aren't angry about that, you aren't breathing.
We stand at a pivotal moment when anger can continue to fester and feed upon itself -- if that's what you want, the Tea Party is ready to welcome you with open arms. Or anger can rebuild the system that caused all the problems. Occupy America is pure democracy against pure power, because nobody should have any illusion about who holds all the aces. I can't predict where the movement will go; perhaps it will fizzle out tomorrow with a resigned sigh.
But I do know that truth must be spoken to power. Eventually, all change starts there, by ignoring the odds and the threat of punishment, by standing up and saying "I accuse you of injustice." This action must be taken over and over again, and if the people speaking truth to power have right on their side and not just a boiling stew pot of rage, things will change. There's no reason why an Arab spring can't turn into an American autumn.
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