Occupy Wall Street in the Spotlight
What is it about the Occupy Wall Street movement? How has a series of formless, anarchic street parties gone viral and spread all over America, all over the world? They don’t seem to have a plan, nobody knows exactly what they stand for. What’s the point?
The point is in the name. “Occupy.” Not demonstrate, petition or march. Occupy. As in, fix this mess or we’ll bring it down. Occupy isn’t a message; it’s a threat.
That’s all it will be. There will be no revolution in America. But a threat is enough.
The problem is simple. Our rich are too rich; they have all the money.
Capitalism is money moving. When the money is all on top, it can’t move. That’s why the nation has horrendous unemployment, while at the very same instant corporations are sitting on continents of cash they can’t use, can’t even invest.
But money and power never give an inch unless they’re terrified of losing their money and power. They only understand fear.
It was the threat posed by turn-of-the-century anarchists that gave rise to the trust-busting progressives of the Teddy Roosevelt era. In the thirties, the auto companies and steel mills didn’t want to yield any power to the commie unions. They sure didn’t want any New Deal.
But when they caused a depression worldwide, and they saw what other countries were doing about it—going fascist, going Communist, going crazy—they sure enough let those unions through the front door. Better to give something than to lose everything.
Fear of Communism kept the mega-rich on the straight and narrow through the post-war years. Taxes and policies were progressive, the middle class thrived, the moguls kept the ostentatious display of their riches out of our faces, on the down low. But then Communism died and there was nothing left to fear. “Greed is good” took over.
That orgy ended three years ago; the crash came inevitably as night follows day. The Occupy demonstrators came along just in time. This new movement is already performing historically vital work. The capitalists need to be “scared straight.”
Demonstrations are two things: war and theater, in varying proportions, dictated by capability and circumstances.
The Occupy movement calls itself the 99%, and that is an apt description. It is 1% war and 99% theater. Saying that is not a put down. The pen is mightier than the sword; theater is the pen brought to life.
The vagueness that troubles some sympathizers is one of the Occupy movement’s great strengths. The inchoate, formless nature of the demonstrations is scary to the power elite. Those crowds represent the unknown. Who knows what they want, how far they’ll go? We better co-opt and appease them before they get crazy.
It is already happening; they’re occupying the pages of the Wall Street Journal as we speak. The movement has that paper biting its tail, they can’t shut up about it. So far the WSJ response has been nervous ridicule, but I also saw an op-ed by some rich guy calling for his fellow rich guys to start donating some of their riches to public works! He reasoned that if Carnegie could endow a thousand libraries with his fortune, maybe today’s aristocrats could fund a bridge.
As an idea, that’s plain silly, but as a symptom it’s unmistakable: The Occupy movement is working.
You can shame some people and the Occupy movement already has. Among the billionaires there are some who feel the weight of their wealth, their responsibility to society. Warren Buffet felt that weight even before the movement got started, and he’s been joined by several others since.
But most of the superrich are immune to the calls of conscience. They aren’t troubled in the slightest. They believe in the righteousness of their wealth like Louis XIV believed in the divine right of kings. But deep in their cold hearts they harbor fears, fears that can be exploited.
That is the job of the Occupy movement, scare the bejeezus out of the filthy rich. It’s a job of theater. That’s why the specific ideology of the Occupy movement doesn’t matter much. What matters is that they keep occupying.
Winter is coming, the cops are getting nervous, the rhetoric is heating up. The Occupy movement may diminish, it may fade away.
But the Occupy movement can succeed beyond their wildest dreams if they remember the one immutable commandment of the theater.
The Show Must Go On.
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