From its very beginning the Occupy Wall Street movement has had the right idea. Our seething moral outrage over unbridled corporate greed has long needed expression; it has long needed to be seen, chanted, shouted. And it is encouraging to see how this movement has struck a chord with the average American.
I participated recently in an Occupy protest in my own city, and two things amazed me. First, that the majority of protesters (there were over 200 of them) were not young and unemployed. They were not professional or experienced activists. For most, this was probably the only protest they had ever participated in. Most were middle-aged like me– laborers, craftsmen, homemakers, businessmen and women, some retired, but all deeply angered over the corporate coup that has turned Lincoln’s “government of the people, by the people, for the people” into a government of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%.
Second, the response from passing motorists was so overwhelmingly supportive. Probably 85% showed their solidarity by beeping their horns, waving their arms or fists, or whooping (I think I even heard a genuine Rebel Yell or two– it’s a Southern thing). It was obvious that what we were doing found a deep resonance with our fellow citizens.
But as I told my wife over breakfast that morning, I can’t help thinking we’re going after the wrong guys. Wouldn’t it be more effective to occupy Congress? By that I mean, protesting outside the offices of our elected representatives. They are, after all, democratically accountable to us (at least on paper). The guys on Wall Street (and by Wall Street we mean corporate America, especially the financial sector) are not. While I am in no way expressing sympathy for or excusing the egregious greed and grand larceny of the so-called Fat Cats, protesting Wall Street greed is rather like objecting to sharks’ behavior in a feeding frenzy. Sharks are feeding machines that go where they know they can get a meal, where they smell blood. In the same way, Wall Street feeds on whatever and wherever it can, wherever money is to be made. There is no moral scruple. The bottom line is more, more, more.
By contrast, Congress has been entrusted with the economic oversight of this nation and with protecting citizens from capitalism run amok. The issue is therefore not only that there are wolves in the sheep pen, but more importantly that someone let them in. Where are the shepherds? They were bought off with wolf dollars, bribed to look the other way.
Corporations would not be crushing America if Congress had been doing its job. Indeed, the corporate coup could not have happened without the absolute complicity of our elected officials: the repeal of Glass-Steagall and the hundreds of other pieces of corrupt legislation that have sold our system to the highest bidder. What is broken is not Wall Street. Wall Street is not going to protect us from Wall Street. What we need most is campaign finance reform: publicly funded elections that will drain all that intoxicating swill out of the trough. We need elected officials who will pass legislation to rein in Wall Street, rather than allowing Wall Street to reign over us. We need to hold our leaders accountable so that they can hold corporate America accountable.
Focusing on Wall Street as the identified patient has even allowed some of our leaders to use Wall Street’s sins as a screen for their own corrupt behavior. Our President’s railing against the “fat cats,” for example, is the height of hypocrisy, especially since his own campaign is the biggest consumer of their cash. Some congressional representatives point the finger at Wall Street and cheer on the protests as if they themselves weren’t the chief enablers in a broken system.
Wall Street doesn’t really care about its image. No, not really. It probably does not like all this attention, but its feelings are not hurt by these protests. It has no feelings. Its only god is Mammon; its only responsibility to its bottom line. But our senators and representatives want to win re-election and they need our vote to do that. Their biggest fear is that we will find out what they have been doing and that we will organize ourselves. And that is exactly what is happening. Yes, change happens from the bottom up, but it has to go up. We need our elected officials, just as they need us. The alternative is revolution and bloodshed.
I would not want the OWS movement to stop what it’s doing. I applaud what it has done. Its voice has galvanized a nation, awakened a sleeping giant. Now perhaps the rest of us can take the battle to where real change can happen, to the halls of Congress, with phone calls, letters, emails, and even showing up at their local offices. And if the protesters should suddenly find themselves evicted from Zuccotti Park… well, there’s always Capitol Hill, the Mall, or the Senate Office Building. The time is ripe. I urge my fellow Americans to get involved in any way they can.