Wednesday, November 9, 2011

PREOCCUPIED: A HISTORICAL DEJA-VU


November 9, 2011

They were out in the streets. They waved placards, hollered slogans. A clique of greedy people were hogging all the wealth and these folks were angry about it. They were our countrymen, ordinary Americans insisting they, too, should be permitted a chance at the American dream, one being denied them by those who controlled America’s riches.
A smug upper class was being challenged by a population The authorities first warned these poor people, then hit them hard. The victims included many who’d just been fighting for their country.
And so their numbers grew. Each time force was applied the protest swelled until it reached a pivotal moment.
There were those who shrugged them off. One of the country’s richest, John Dickinson, admonished the populace: “Behave like dutiful children who have received unmerited blows from a beloved parent.” In other words, like it or lump it, shut up and take it.
They didn’t. And the result was the United States of America.
Historical note here: The War of Independence was never a sudden spontaneous uprising against the mother country. It evolved gradually from dissatisfaction among the Out Of Doors People, as the jobless and homeless called themselves, largely on the Boston waterfront. Historian Russell Bourne explains that the ordinary folk “were going to strike back at those who held them down, be they British or Boston elite.” Eminent author Robert Harvey traces riots against the colonial rich back to 1750.
We can draw a parallel with today’s events.
Now, as then, those who were holding the Dream hostage fought to keep the hapless and hopeless “in their place”. Power and money belonged to the venal politicians, the monopolist merchants. In 1771 tycoon Samuel Cornell paid for a 1,000-strong militia to tackle an enormous crowd complaining of corruption: it culminated in the seminal Battle of Alamance.
Today’s marchers prefer civil disobedience, a peaceful tactic that has proved immensely effective ever since Gandhi’s India.
In his “tree of liberty” letter that the gunslingers like to quote at Tea Party rallies, Thomas Jefferson hinted at frequent rebellion as a means of giving government a remedial kick in the pants. He appears even to call for violence, although that is hardly what’s been in evidence with the Occupy crowds – except from a few infiltrated saboteurs, fifth columnists. And from the police. Can there be any justification for yanking back the head of a guy sitting on the ground and pepper spraying him point blank in the eyes? It happened in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on November 1 and the image is abhorrent.
True, demonstrators often goad cops in riot gear to abuse them physically. But words and disobedience do not constitute an assault, nor do they merit one from the authorities. Pepper spray is for use against individuals posing a clear and present threat, not passive protesters.
And so there is more violence. Masked anarchists and agents provocateurs infiltrate the crowd and smash windows. And this begets more viciousness. And so the movement grows with even greater public outrage as a second Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran now lies in intensive care thanks to a police beating.
Our military personnel fight in foreign lands championing the cherished American right of free speech only to have it brutally stifled back home. Can anyone see the irony in that? Or that some of our demonstrating military veterans are also policemen, so they could find themselves being painfully “protected and served” at the end of a fellow officer’s nightstick!
We’ve seen the weirdest Occupy characters paraded onto our TV screens and we’ve heard the epithets. How easy to dismiss these mostly sincere and educated middle class young people as “the great unwashed”, morons with bad breath and herpes. Similar derision met those at the start of the American Revolution whose complaints were so like today’s.
Naturally, the cunning mouthpieces of a certain network we might call vulpes vulpes, cherry-pick the most bizarre demonstrators to make viewers believe this is an entire rabble of misfits. It is not. They’re our neighbors.
The exceptions? How about the groanworthy appearance among the Wall Street demonstrators of integrity-challenged opportunist Jesse Jackson. Or disgraced congressman Charles Rangel. Or indeed any of Washington’s denizens: these people are as responsible for America’s mess as are the bankers.
And when I hear some Occupy extremists attacking “capitalism” my hackles go up. These twits have no idea. No way is America looking to become an egalitarian state, but taking the money out of politics is essential to give us our voices back. Lobbying should be outlawed. And then there’s that recent Supreme Court decision allowing corporations to pour unlimited funds into elections. Washington is bought and paid for.
In a democracy all the people have a say. This is clearly not the case today, nor was it before Jefferson included the immortal declaration that “all men are created equal”.
Until this becomes true again we have some soul searching to do. Prior to even tackling the most desperately urgent issue facing the country - that of jobs – we need to define just how much liberty we actually do have.
We must ask ourselves some simple questions. Here are three. Is the corporate voice the only one allowed to be heard in America today? Do local city ordinances override freedom of speech? The First Amendment guarantees us the right to assemble to air our grievances, but did the Framers say we could do this only during business hours?

ENDIT

© 2011 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.