Make no mistake about it: The struggle between Wall Street and "the 99 percent" is a culture war. It's a war over our values, our beliefs, and rights. That's why Occupy Wall Street has been wise not to proclaim specific policy demands.
The movement is trying to change the way we view ourselves and our society. That has started a war: a war of communication, a war of education, a war of perception. It's a war to remind us who we are as a people -- or better yet, who we would wish to be.
Here are five pictures from that culture war.
After Marine and Iraq War vet Scott Olsen was wounded by police at #Occupy Oakland, a page sprang up called "How I feel, as a United States Marine, about what occurred in Oakland." Here are some of the comments to be found there 24 hours later, along with the picture above:
Red Leader; Semper Fi.
I am ashamed of my country. I softly weep for the pain that awaits us all.
I'm a former Marine: 1963 - 1967; Chu Lai, Vietnam: 1965 - 1966. I wholeheartedly agree: YOU DID THIS TO MY BROTHER. And you will find out just how many brothers Scott Olsen has.
Semper Fi brothers, and remember who you are. Protectors of a great nation, not politicians or wealthy money grubbing bankers and the like. When it comes time, I know we'll stand strong.
"I "Name" do solemnly swear to protect the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and DOMESTIC". I remember that oath. Former Active Duty Marine, 0311 3rd Bat 6th Marines, Afghan/Iraq Vet ... I'm not sure if law enforcement has to do the same oath, but I was an active member of my local sheriff's department search and rescue team and I had to swear in with that same oath.
RED LEADER, STANDING BY.
Big red, standing by
Red Sangria, standing by.
Red October, shtanding by
Red Fox, standin' by.
Red Dawn, standing by...
The messages keep coming, even now, one after the other.
#2: Monster Mash
One of the "foreclosure mill" law firms that made millions evicting people from their homes had a Halloween Party, and a lot of the partiers dressed up as homeless people. From the New York Times website:
On Friday, the law firm of Steven J. Baum threw a Halloween party ... it represents virtually all the giant mortgage lenders, including Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo.
... A former employee (said) that the snapshots are an accurate representation of the firm's mind-set. "There is this really cavalier attitude," she said. "It doesn't matter that people are going to lose their homes." Nor does the firm try to help people get mortgage modifications; the pressure, always, is to foreclose ... In one, two Baum employees are dressed like homeless people. One is holding a bottle of liquor. The other has a sign around her neck that reads: "3rd party squatter. I lost my home and I was never served." My source said that "I was never served" is meant to mock "the typical excuse" of the homeowner trying to evade a foreclosure proceeding.
... A third photograph shows a corner of Baum's office decorated to look like a row of foreclosed homes. Another shows a sign that reads, "Baum Estates" -- needless to say, it's also full of foreclosed houses. Most of the other pictures show either mock homeless camps or mock foreclosure signs -- or both.
Theirs is the largest law firm of its kind in New York.
#3: In your face, Chile!
There's a new report called "Social Justice in the OECD: How Do the Member States Compare?" The report outlined " A cross-national comparison of social justice in the OECD," based on a series of factors the authors describe as "the six dimensions of social justice": Poverty prevention , Access to education, Labor market inclusion, Social cohesion and non-discrimination, Health, and Intergenerational justice.
The report found that "The United States, with its alarming poverty levels, lands near the bottom of the weighted index, ranking only slightly better than its neighbor Mexico and new OECD member Chile."
#4: The Condition of Everything
Front doors were being locked up and down K Street, where many of the lobbying groups and political organizations are based, when the Occupy DC'ers came marching through. One security guard turned to his colleague, who was old enough to have remember the District of Columbia during its most segregated era, and asked what the marchers were protesting.
"I'm not sure," he older man said. "But I think they're objecting to ..." -- he made a broad circle above the air with his hand - "... the condition of everything."
That's pretty close to the sentiment expressed in the now-famous words of one Wall Street protester's sign: "Sh*t is all f**ked up."
Every successful social movement has been exactly that -- social, not political. India won its independence because the movement illustrated the fact that the British presence there violated a basic, very human sense of justice and fair play. The civil rights movement accomplished so much because spotlighted injustice, bigotry, and violence in a thousand ways, large and small.
At the height of the British Raj, 6,000 British residents exerted absolute political control over 100 million Indians.Eventually the Indians came to realize that they unable to guide their own destinies as human beings should, so long as they were ruled by others. They made the world see it, too.
And the impossible happened.
The civil rights movement transformed this nation the same way: nonviolently and peacefully, but within the clear glow of the moral force behind their cause. Once that moral force (Gandhi called it "satyagraha," "truth/soul/force," which some translate as "soul force" or "the power of truth") is channeled, it can stir the hearts of millions.
That moral force isn't found by demanding better regulations or new taxation policies. Those important changes come afterwards, after a society has reaffirmed its underlying sense of its own values and ethics, of its beliefs about right and wrong -- and about itself.
That requires the ability to understand what's wrong with the social and moral condition ... of everything.
#5: We Are the 0.99%
Last week the CBO report on wealth inequality drew a lot of media attention. As the New York Times put it, that report showed that since the 1970's "the top one percent of earners doubled their share of the nation's income." The Times also noted that "government policy has become less redistributive since the late 1970s, doing less to reduce the concentration of income."
The CBO report echoed findings that were developed using data from the Social Security Administration's payroll and tax records. As Daniel Pereira explained, "The median wage for the 150 million workers surveyed in 2010 was just $26,363.55 per person. For comparison, the poverty line for an average 4-person household is set at $22,350, while the line for a single person living alone comes in at $10,890. "
That means that half the working people in the United States earned less than that amount. The blue line is lifting away from the red line in the chart because the rich are getting richer while everyone else is struggling. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that average hourly wages haven't increased in fifty years.
The Economic Policy Institute found that "The top 1 percent of households have secured a very large share of all of the gains in income -- 59.9 percent of the gains from 1979-2007, while the top 0.1 percent seized an even more disproportionate share -- 36 percent. "
The highest one percent saw their income go up 224% percent during this period, which is consistent with the CBO's finding for the same years. But the top 0.1% saw their income rise by nearly 400%! Can we expect a new "Occupy" movement led by millionaires who aren't skimming as much cream as their uber-rich compatriots? They could call it "We are the 0.99%."
Both the EPI's figures and the CBO's cover the period ending in 2007. That was before the crash -- and the bailout.
#6: Frightened Failures
Bankers taunted Occupy Chicago demonstrators by distributing a sheet of paper that included the words of an email that circulated around Wall Street a while back. The email/leaflet said things like this:
We are Wall Street. It is our job to make money.
Go ahead and continue to take us down, but you're only going to hurt yourselves. What's going to happen when we can't find jobs on the Street anymore? Guess what: We're going to take yours. We get up at 5 am and work til 10pm or later ... We don't take an hour or more for a lunch break. We don't demand a union. We don't retire at 50 with a pension. We eat what we kill, and when the only thing left to eat is on your dinner plate, we'll eat that.
Do you really think we are incapable of teaching 3rd graders and doing landscaping? We aren't dinosaurs. We are smarter and more vicious than that, and we are going to survive."
I responded to this email when it came out so I won't repeat myself. But yes: We think, in fact we know, that you're incapable of teaching third graders or doing landscaping. Or of patrolling a dangerous neighborhood, or caring for a sick patient, or any of the useful jobs other people do.
Why? Because it's real work.
In fact, without the indulgence, generosity, and charity of people who do work, along with that of the unemployed millions who are willing to work, you'd be out of a job altogether.
The utter cluelessness of this email is striking. Who retires at fifty with a pension these days? And these parasites don't put in long hours because they're hard workers. They put in long hours because it ain't real work! And they put in long hours because they're addicted to the buzz that sociopaths get when they rip off a client (yes, I said a client) and subtract a tiny bit more from the sum total of human happiness.
I offered to debate the author of that email back when it came out -- or to suggest one of the many other people who could probably do it better. But they won't confront any of us. They won't even come out in the open where they can be seen, because they're frightened. And they're right to be frightened. Put them up against those Marines, or against a group of schoolteachers or firefighters or nurses, and it's not easy to guess who would be "lunch."
The Marines -- and all of the demonstrators, and most of the people in this country -- have the power of solidarity, of brotherhood and sisterhood, of community. People like the bankers who wrote that leaflet have only their own inexpressible craving and endless, restless, roaming hunger. They're like a pack of wild hyenas, raiding society's trash cans and begging for a handout when even that fails.
Want to know why they're so worried right now? Because somewhere, deep in their hearts, they know what they're up against. They're up against something more powerful than wealth or technology or even numbers. They're up against morality. They're up against the power of the truth. They're up against "soul force."
Those are forces that nobody can resist forever. Not even them, the wealthiest and most privileged human beings in history. Not even them, with all the resources at their command.