When Lambs Become Lions.
There’s an old proverb attributed to the Chinese, “May you live in interesting times.” It’s not a blessing, it’s a curse.
Yet there’s a certain “blessing” to being privy to these historical times: I have lived to see the event that exacerbated America’s racism – 9/11; the man who changed the way the world communicated – Steve Jobs; the greatest sea change in American leadership – Barack Obama; and I have lived to see the humble beginnings and audacious flowering of the movement that is blowback for decades of corporate capitalist greed – Occupy Wall Street, now colloquially known worldwide as “the 99 Percent.”
Investigative reporter for Vanguard, Christof Putzel, inserts himself into the cranky machine, and teases out the whys and wherefores of this movement that even some of its supporters find hard to pin down.
Christof visits Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan, New York, where the movement started in grass roots fervor (ironically, in a park with no grass!); to eat, sleep and mingle in the belly of the beast. He unequivocally gives himself over to living the lifestyle, bedding down in a plastic sleeping bag in the rain next to friendly strangers, using toilets in nearby shops, helping with community chores; asking, chatting, questing for the purpose of the collective and exploring the resolve of individual participants. He attends the meetings, becomes one with the “human mic” (the ingenious method by which crowds repeat speakers’ words to convey their monologues to the farthest listeners without public address systems. “Did he say ‘Blessed are the cheesemakers’?”); Putzel becomes ultimately one of the few reporters qualified to “speak for” the 99 Percent.
This TV feature identifies the leadup to Occupy Wall Street (OWS); how a magazine called Adbusters, claiming inspiration from the Arab Spring in the Middle East (where protestors ousted dictators through their occupations), called on Americans to organize against corrupt corporations. Their demand: a presidential commission to separate money from politics.
september 17, 2011: zuccotti park
Adbusters slated a date (September 17, 2011), and chose Zuccotti Park aka 1 Liberty Plaza, across from the World Trade Center. They circulated this ad, featuring the iconic Wall Street bull: “What is our one demand?”
The name “99 percent” derives from 1% of the United States’ population owning more wealth than the other 99% combined. No one is begrudging the 1% their wealth in this capitalistic society. The nuance that the OWS movement is making more clear every day is that those 1% use their outlandish wealth to buy political leverage. And that’s not democracy. That’s not the original tenet the United States was founded on when it turned its back on tyrannical kings. (Although if you examine history, you’ll find that no matter the founding ideology of a country or state, rich landowners have ALWAYS had more of a say in government than farmers or bus drivers.)
“I’m not against people being rich if they work hard – I’m against people not paying their fair share, and buying the government. That’s not democracy!”
One of the many straws that broke the camel’s back for this movement was when the U.S. Supreme Court decreed “personhood” on corporations, and allowed them to donate unlimited dollars to political campaigns, thereby handing the richest people the reins of government policy. Presidency being prostituted much?
Another element that drove this movement was more like a coiled spring being turned tighter and tighter: after the 2008 economic collapse due to the nation’s banks and Wall Street engaging in literally criminal practices, not only were they bailed out with taxpayer money, not one of those felons who drove the country to near-depression was jailed. Days turned into weeks turned into months and the economic reform that the Obama administration promised continued to not happen. And the Wall Street scum continued to walk free. Not only that, they openly returned to the same practices that drove the country into the mire. AND – they were giving themselves bonuses with the bailout money – bonuses for doing a BAD job of managing money! Bonuses for doing an ILLEGAL job and not getting caught even though their crimes were in plain sight! It became unconscionable… the seeds of Occupy Wall Street were planted.
“What’s taking place is quite frankly criminal. Yet the only person who’s gone to jail is Bernie Madoff.”
the 99% declaration
Succinct, direct, lucid, rational, altruistic – and with a soundtrack that sounds like Batman is on his way…
If Zuccotti Park is the head of the snake, then its beating heart is the world wide web. And with such canny, cutting-edge and lucid (for the most part) participants, it is a constant wonder why the public and the media complain that “the message is not clear.”
We can make a reasonable assumption that about 50% of these 99% are not cognizant of their own message. I’m sure the face-tattooed guy who couldn’t pronounce “I feel like I’m making a contribution” is not aware of the message; I’m sure the guy with the placard shouting, “The Jews control Wall Street!” is not aware; the guy with the “I like toast” sign doesn’t know or doesn’t care; and I’d even hazard a guess that many of the Marines and Iraq vets contributing their services to the movement are unaware of why they’re protesting. But – unlike the “Tea Party” mongoloids that were bought out by the Republican party – the Occupiers are at least “good people” (and not in the way rednecks mean it). The ratio of swine to intelligentsia is far lower than it was for any given Tea Party rally. 100% of this 99% comprehend that “something worthwhile” is happening that is good for the community, for society, for the future.
But shame on people like Fox prostitute Sean Hannity and dunderhead Bill O’Reilly, who DO know what the movement represents, yet choose to take the idiotboy stance of pretending to believe it’s a rabble of hippies and morons. Same goes for supposedly smart Republicans who should know better, like Krauthammer and Will and Gingrich. Shame on you all for hiding behind your party-before-country, you swine!
And the further hypocritical audacity of Republicans to label OWS “socialist” (a dog whistle word which has become – in Republican parlance – synonymous with “alien,” “foreign,” “terrorist”), when the 1% themselves (whom the Republicans stand behind sycophantically) were BAILED OUT by the 99%; money being taken from those with it and GIVEN ARBITRARILY to those without. How much more “SOCIALIST” can their own beastmasters possibly get? A pox on all their houses!
october 1, 2011: brooklyn bridge
If there was a moment when OWS can be said to have ignited the imagination of the world, tabulators of history point to this date, when an inordinately large number of protestors were arrested by police – 700 – as they tried to march across Brooklyn Bridge. Less than two months after Occupy’s beginnings, now similar protests had sprung up like Hydra heads in many major cities around the country and the world.
It is no coincidence that Current TV – the network that aired this documentary – coupled it with another intriguing documentary about Gene Sharp, the man who tabulated the methodology for nonviolent political resistance, for peaceful protests, and the overthrow of governments without bloodshed. (The Politics of Non-Violent Action, 1973 (trilogy), From Dictatorship to Democracy, 2003.)
december 26, 2011: TIME magazine
“The Protestor” is named Person of the Year by TIME Magazine, and the Occupy movement worldwide is put in perspective by detailing the timeline of events around the world that led not just to Occupy, but to the Arab Spring and other protests that moved mountains and governments.
countdown with keith olbermann
It was inevitable that the peaceful protesting of OWS would spawn violence. Because they are protesting against a military industrial machine – a machine that handles conflict in only one way – lashing out. In adopting OWS as the cause célèbre for his nightly news show Countdown, Keith Olbermann covers each instance of police thuggery against OWS in micro detail and with his usual poetic castigation. Though I know Olbermann apprehends the OWS message all too well, his network’s focus on the beatings and pepper sprayings has unintentionally skewed that message or muddied it. This is truly the agenda of those ordering the pepper spraying and gratuitous brutality – to divert attention away from the OWS message.
Other networks have covered the OWS movement, but again, the most coverage we see is when police brutality is the hook. This kind of coverage does injustice to the movement by making the brutality the focus. So even whilst some sympathetic media outlets claim the police attacks are causing the movement to grow (which is true), the attacks per se are succeeding in diverting attention away from the movement’s message. Which means the police are winning; the police, whose departments have been bought off by politicians, who have been bought off by lobbyists, who have been bought off by – you guessed it – the 1%. Which means that no matter the insensitive optics of an 84-year-old lady being pepper sprayed or an Iraq vet having his skull fractured, these images and stories themselves serve to discombobulate the overarching message of OWS – that corporations have bought off the political system in America.
Christof outlines some of the short-term positive effects of OWS: some banks dropping unreasonable fees, a customer exodus away from banks (almost like the Great Depression, when people didn’t trust that their bank would be able to give back all their money should they request it – which is as true now as it was in 1933!); and turning the criminal activities of 2008 into a national conversation.
Only time will tell what the long-term effects of OWS will be. Meanwhile, kudos to Vanguard, who dived on this social phenomenon from its infancy. Christof and the other Vanguard reporters consistently deliver top-notch reporting from around the world and THE 99 PERCENT is no exception. Like the 99-percent themselves, Vanguard is speaking up, lending their voice to the struggle by allowing the Occupy movement a platform in their documentary.
Even some people who support the movement may feel that the drum circles and the camping and the enduring of police brutality is affecting nothing, is serving no purpose, but as one protestor tells Christof, “If you don’t speak up, then nothing will change.”
Our forefathers witnessed their share of historical events. Now it’s our turn. We are living in a time when the gears of radical sociological change have been put in motion by We The People, the 99-percent. The rest, as they say, is interesting times…