- Policing the 99 Percent, Pt. 1
Much has already been written and said about violence police used against unarmed OWS protesters in New York, Chicago, Boston, and now Oakland. From using pepper spray against peaceful protesters to lobbing flash bombs at unarmed protesters rushing to help an injured man, the police tactics are chilling enough by themselves. When considered in the context of what really motivates the protesters, the policing of the 99 percent by the 99 percent on behalf of the 1 percent is truly ominous.
The images and footage of the violence are both disturbing and unsurprising. They exist largely because of the ubiquitousness of smartphones and digital cameras that put the power of social media in the hands of every day people. (I write this without irony, as I’ll explain later.) That alone calls into question the wisdom of police actions, given the high likelihood that the actions will be recorded and the actors identified. (The pepper spray incident in New York is one example, as activists quickly identified the officer who wielded the pepper spray.)
In the most shocking cases, the protesters’ only transgression appears to have been dissent. The women pepper sprayed in New York were merely complaining about the police tactics in moving the protesters away from buildings. Others have been arrested for merely talking to police officers. The brutality of the police actions are, in some ways, matched by officers apparent amusement and the glee with which conservatives have responded to them. As with gay soldiers in Iraq, veterans of our most recent wars are not spared, as conservatives accuse the veteran who confronted NYPD officers about the violence used against unarmed protesters of “hiding behind his service to his country,” and “blamed the victim” in comments on the YouTube video of two-time Iraq war veteran Scott Olson being shot in the head with a projectile by Oakland police, while taking part in a peaceful protest and provoking no one.
By contrast, progresives and OSW supporters held “We Are All Scott Olsen” rallies all over the country, in a show of support, solidarity and empathy summed up by the statement of one Wisconsin activist: “He could be any one of us.” It also sums up what the OWS movement is all about, and what protesters in Oakland, Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, and hundreds of other cities are marching for.
While the media and the pundit class like to pretend that no one — not even the OWS protesters — know what the demonstrations are all about, recent CBO statistics make it all too clear what motivates the OWS movement and its’ supporters.
The hard-right conservatives who dominate the Republican Party claim to despise the redistribution of wealth, but secretly they love it — as long as the process involves depriving the poor and middle class to benefit the rich, not the other way around.
That is precisely what has been happening, as a jaw-dropping new report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office demonstrates. Three decades of trickle-down economic theory, see-no-evil deregulation and tax-cutting fervor have led to massive redistribution. Another word for what’s been happening might be theft.
The gist of the CBO study, titled “Trends in the Distribution of Household Income Between 1979 and 2007,” is that while we’ve become wealthier overall, these new riches have largely bypassed many Americans and instead flowed mostly to the affluent. Perhaps my memory is faulty, but I don’t remember voting to turn the United States into a nation starkly divided between haves and have-nots. Yet that’s where we’ve been led.
In fact, the wealthiest 1% doubled its share of the nation’s income, yet the economy still sputters. Meanwhile, the median income for the rest of us dropped to $26,364, 64% of us don’t have enough cash on hand for a $1,000 emergency expense, and more than 20% of us see our personal financial situation at “poor.”
The activists and supporters of the Occupy movement are not wild-eyed radicals bent on anarchy, or starry-eyed, utopia-seeking flower children.
- They are newly poor, middle class, and elderly Americans who are relying on food banks for the first time.
- They have seen poverty surging in their neighborhoods, and spreading in their own back yards.
- They are students facing out-of-control tuition costs, saddled with a lifetime of debt for an education that’s declining in value, graduating off a cliff into the worst jobs market in years — and all without a safety net.
- They are young people for whom the pursuit of higher education of upward mobility is no longer possible.
- They are young people who have taken to the streets because they have the most to lose.
- They are 68-year-old retirees who have seen their savings dwindle and their Social Security and Medicare benefits threatened, in order for the wealthy can keep their tax cuts.
- They are older workers who are more than twice as likely as younger workesr to remain unemmployed for 99 weeks or longer.
- They are Americans looking for work, and finding the ratio of workers to available jobs is 5-to-1, and that jobs created in this recession are mostly low-wage jobs that don’t pay as much as the jobs they’ve lost.
- They are Ameicans who can no longer afford to shop at dollar stores, while the sales of luxury goods skyrocket.
Recent polls and surveys show that efforts on the right and in the media to portray the Occupy protesters as “mobs” of “dirty hippies” who “don’t know what they’re protesting,” are not having the desired effect on rest of the population. They have not muted the message of the protests or blurred economic realities that have inspired the movement and its message.
- A National Journal Poll showed that 59% agree or “agree strongly” with the goals of OSW. An even larger percentage supported the millionaires’ tax proposted by President Obama.
- A poll conducted by The Hill found that nearly 75% believe that income inequality has become a big problem. Even among conservatives, 55% called inequality a big problem — compared to 81% of centrists and 94% of liberals.
- A New York Times/CBS poll found that 66% feel “the money and wealth in this country should be more evenly distributed.”
A fellow Marines explained what motivated Scott Olsen’s participation in the Occupy movement: “Scott was marching with the 99 percent because he felt corporations and banks had too much control over our government, and that they weren’t being held accountable for their role in the economic downturn, which caused so many people to lose their jobs and their homes.”
That applies not just to Olsen, but the the Occupy movement itself. Yet you wouldn’t know it from listening to media talking heads who deride activists being cluelessly “anti-corporation” while lugging their laptops and smartphones to the protest sites and encampments. Nor will you hear it from conservative politicians like Paul Ryan, who are to busy decrying “class warfare” and “envy” as the driving forces of the protests, and the cause of “social unrest.”
As Bob Cesca explains, Occupy Wall Street isn’t “anti-corporation.” It’s anti-corporate crime.
The movement is opposed to deregulated, free market capitalism. Short of Ron Paul disciples and Ayn Rand cultists, no reasonable American wants a system in which Enron, Goldman Sachs, AIG or BP can commit heinous crimes and not pay the price. According to Gallup, 68 percent of Americans want corporations to have less influence in America. That doesn’t mean a supermajority of Americans are anti-corporation, it simply means that a supermajority of Americans agree that corporations have acquired too much power and therefore ought to be reined in. Not banished or banned, just watched more closely.
The OWS movement, like the American people, isn’t anti-corporate, it’s anti-corporate crime.
…Members of the Republican Party and the conservative movement are all about law and order, right? It’s remarkable, then, that Dennis Prager and Herman Cain aren’t supporting accountability against the corporations that poison our water or exacerbate unemployment or trigger a deep recession.
And that’s exactly what OWS is seeking: accountability.
They not “anti-capitalism” or even “anti-capitalist.” They are Americans opposed to a capitalism that has operated without conscience or accountability for decades, and outraged that they, their families and their communities have borne the consequences. And this means one of two things: that their concerns must be prioritized and their voices heeded, or they must be more effectively policed.