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Joseph A. Palermo Headshot

Occupy Wall Street: American as Apple Pie

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Those loud right-wing voices in our political discourse that are trying to make Occupy Wall Street look like something "foreign" to American culture are barking up the wrong tree. When David Crosby and Graham Nash recently showed up at Zuccotti Park for an impromptu sing-along with the protesters they linked OWS with the long American tradition of resistance to oligarchic rule. Crosby's song, "What Are Their Names?," has given the movement an anthem.

Please forgive us if we don't respond positively to the notion of "bipartisan" solutions to the nation's current problems. The absolute worst policies of our time have been enacted with "bipartisan" support: NAFTA and the WTO; deregulating Wall Street; the Bush tax cuts; the Iraq invasion and occupation; the bailout of the banks with no strings attached -- all were "bipartisan." And now we have the "bipartisan" deficit "Super Committee" taking aim at further shredding the social safety net in a time of record-long unemployment and real human suffering. We don't need to hang around until the closing credits to see how this shitty movie is going to end.

Going back to antiquity the only time rational human progress was made was when the oligarchs and monarchs, large landowners, and the Church were brushed aside for a moment in time. In 1776, had the American revolutionaries tried the Barack Obama approach of "reaching out" in a spirit of "cooperation" with the Tories and the British Crown there never would have been a United States of America in the first place. It's the same with the Progressive Era, the New Deal, and the Great Society -- none of these periods of reform would have been possible through "bipartisanship."

Alexis de Tocqueville identified this anti-oligarchic strain way back in the early national period, and we can see it by simply popping in a Frank Capra movie from the 1930s (or John Ford's "The Grapes of Wrath). Occupy Wall Street has far more in common with this deep American cultural tradition of individual resistance to inherited wealth than any of the confused faux populists of "Americans for Prosperity" or the "Tea Party Patriots." I really believe Americans will not put up with living under an authoritarian oligarchy like the one the Koch Brothers, Grover Norquist, and Karl Rove envision for us.

Throughout the decade of the 1930s, even while President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Democratic Congress were doing a great deal to help alleviate the suffering of the 99 percent, there were violent confrontations across the country with workers being tear gassed and beaten, even shot or killed. Back in 1934, militant strike actions broke out across the country including the General Strike in San Francisco, the Auto-Lite Strike in Toledo, Ohio, and the Teamsters-led Minneapolis Strike. Shortly thereafter came the sit-down strikes in Flint, Michigan and the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC) struggle against Little Steel. On May 26, 1937, in Chicago, there was the "Memorial Day Massacre" where 10 steel workers were shot in the back as they fled the police outside of Tom Girdler's Republic Steel plant.

For OWS it's just the beginning of the beginning.

We must sideline the Norquists and the Kochs and the rest of the oligarchs and begin to plan rationally for an ecologically sustainable future. OWS is the first baby step in that direction. Grover breathes the same air we do. And not even the Almighty Kochs can protect their heirs from the looming environmental catastrophe they and their political underlings have contributed mightily to bringing about.

(And what do we make of a Republican presidential frontrunner, Herman Cain, who declares: "I'm the Koch Brothers' brother from another mother!" What does it tell us about the seriousness and understanding coming from the standard-bearers of the GOP? The party that President Obama is so determined to work with.)

How many decades can the ruling class in this country fail the people before the extent of its failures exacts a political cost? The time to act is passing by quickly. We must sideline the right-wing zealots and the corporate elites and their water carriers to carve out the democratic space to accomplish something real in behalf of the planet and its people.

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