The “Occupy” political movement is one of the most fascinating developments in recent years, as frustrated, self-described regular folks are stepping up to demonstrate just how furious they are with Wall Street.
They’re calling themselves the “99 percenters” and they’re focusing their antipathy towards the “1 percent” that they see as nearly taking down our economic system.
The anger stretches nationwide, even here in Santa Cruz, where it would be hard to argue that even a single “1 percenter” is living in our midst.
Which brings up only one of a number of questions that “Occupy Santa Cruz” will face in coming weeks and months.
What is it that they want?
Who are they demonstrating against?
What are they occupying?
If they raise money, what financial institution will handle thelr affairs?
Beyond gathering and marching, what activities will they organize?
But asking those questions implies opposition to the cause. And at least in my case, that’s not true.
There’s little question that corporate corruption mixed with governmental incompetence and societal greed all conspired to nearly bring down the entire world economy in 2008. The federal treasury bailed out several financial institutions, removing any sense of consequences for their CEOs bad decisions. Now, three years later, things have only improved marginally for most people.
But the privileged few on Wall Street are doing fine. Even after the near-collapse, they still get their bonuses. Even those who lost their jobs got golden parachutes sometimes exceeding $100 million.
Can you blame the protesters? What other strategy do they have?
The sad reality is that the U.S. government really had no choice but to bail out the banks. But the chosen few on Wall Street could have refused the bonuses and showed a modicum of selflessness.
They didn’t—and finally an unruly throng descended on the financial district of New York City. And then others did the same around the country—even here in Santa Cruz, where it’s difficult to find someone to target.
Some say that the “Occupy” movement is far different from last year’s “Tea Party” movement that swept through the right wing. I think they’re bookends.
Those on the left and those on the right are both reacting to what appears to be a Wall Street-D.C. Beltway nexus that appears oblivious to the needs of most people in the country.
Most people see that their public officials respond more to special interests than they do to voters. Just take a look at Washington’s abysmal track record in responding to the crisis: a 2,300-page Dodd-Frank financial reform bill. Few, if any, in Congress have even read it. What drives such a complex bill? Special interests.
(As a comparison—the legislation that established the Federal Reserve system was 31 pages. The Glass –Steagall Act of 1933, which prevented 2008-style collapses until it was repealed during the Clinton Administration, was 37 pages.)
So with bad actors on Wall Street, and compliant incompetence in Washington, what are normal folks expected to do?
Don’t expect miracles coming out of the Occupy movement. Organized political entities—MoveOn.org, labor unions and even the Democratic party —will try to swoop in and take advantage of the discontent. And already Republicans are vilifying it, even while cheering on the Tea Party on their side of the divide.
Those of us not joining the movement nevertheless ought to understand it. We also ought to understand the Tea Party as well.
Unfortunately, these populist movements rarely result in the kind of effective legislation that’s probably needed; rather, we’ll likely end up with more convoluted, 2,000-page documents that just add to red tape.
Instead, the best solutions available won’t fit on a picket sign. A more equitable society will require better education of its people and a better sense of duty. It seems like a long time ago that President Kennedy reminded us to ask ourselves what we can do for our country.
Those qualities don’t come from legislation. And maybe that’s, really, what the protesters are asking for: openness, equality and a lot more honesty than we’ve been getting from our financial and governmental institutions.
Who can blame these folks for getting out and expressing their anger? Not me.
Tom Honig’s online website, The Santa Cruz Observer, is available at tomhonig.com.