Great Leap Forward


Some have disparaged the OWS on the grounds that it is leaderless and does not have a concrete list of demands.

When asked what labor wants, Sam Gompers famously said “More!”.

In a succinct statement of the goal of the Memphis sanitation strike, Dr. King responded that they wanted no less than the recognition that “I am a man”.

What did the Yippies want? The YIP’s New Nation Statement put it this way: “We are a people. We are a new nation. We want everyone to control their own life and to care for one another… We cannot tolerate attitudes, institutions, and machines whose purpose is the destruction of life, the accumulation of profit.”

Notably, like the OWS, the Yippies rejected the notion that they needed a leader or a specific party platform. Of course, they were brought together in their opposition to the war against Viet Nam, just as today’s OWS is brought together by its demand for an end to Wall Street’s absolute control of our government and our economy. But both want(ed) so much more.

While vilified at the time, each of these movements was on the right side of history. Like it or not, the labor, civil rights, and Yippie movements transformed America. They helped to build the middle class. They brought down the barriers to meaningful participation in society by people of color and women. They moved our country closer to the ideals of our founders—ideals that even our founders could not fully embrace. They helped to make the rhetoric of the Amendments to our Constitution achievable—within reach even if never quite attained.

Younger people cannot imagine what America was like in the early 1960s, or even in the early 1970s. A girl caught wearing pants to school was sent home. A boy with hair that touched the ear was banned from access to education. A black teen was prohibited from attending state college funded by her own tax-paying parents. The First Amendment was reserved for those who praised US government napalming of innocent civilians in third world countries. And students who tried to object on public lands were silenced by clubs and tear gas. Or shot by National Guard troops.

Virtually all the freedoms that Americans took for granted in the 1980s and 1990s were won by labor, civil rights activists, and Yippies in the 1950s and 1960s.

And now we are watching those freedoms slip away.

The peaceful protests of OWS are being met by force—by heavily armed storm troopers who club innocent Americans with impunity. Who use tear gas and pepper spray to silence dissent. Who make-up illegal rules on the spot and then enforce them with violence. Who provoke defensive reactions by unarmed crowds so that the special forces can justify attacks using unconstrained violence. Who round up hundreds in mass arrests and imprisonment. Who turn the skills they have tuned while subjugating foreigners against their fellow citizens in a city near you.

As reported, at a Midtown gathering of business leaders on Thursday, NY Mayor Bloomberg said that the protests were a dire sign of the public’s economic fears. “The public is getting scared,” he said. “They don’t know what to do, and they’re going to strike out.” He added, “They just know the system isn’t working, and they don’t want to wait around.”

He’s right. And he’s chosen his side of history. The wrong side. Bloomberg, of course, is a member of the 1%. No, sorry, that is an insult, as he is a member of the top hundredth of 1%. He believes that he can unleash preemptive strikes on the 99%, to cow them into submission. To convince them that no matter how bad things are, it will be much worse for them if they object. He chooses the tin-pot dictator approach to protest: attack, attack, attack.

He has apparently worked with similarly-minded mayors and governors across the US to organize pre-emptive attacks on peaceful protestors, those trying to exercise their hard-fought right to free speech. In the 1960s, President Johnson eventually intervened, sending US troops against the thugs armed by mayors like Bloomberg. Don’t hold your breath this time: Washington is completely captured by Wall Street.

Bloomberg knows there is no such thing as a right to free speech. The bottom 99% have no access to the official media—controlled by the likes of Murdoch; and Bloomberg! Bloomberg refuses to even let the OWS protestors in NYC have access to the ancient technology of bullhorns—much less to modern PA systems or broadcast media. Nay, they must use “human mics” while Bloomberg and his ilk have 24 hour access to all the official media.

The official press denigrates the OWS protestors: What do they want? Why would any rational people want to sleep in a park? They must surely all be homeless or crazy people. Heck, they don’t even have leaders. Or a list of demands. Besides, they are not bathing regularly.

We’ve been there before. As Keith Olberman so eloquently put it, Mayor Bloomberg is our Senator McCarthy, our Governor Wallace. Segregation now, segregation forever. Gotta keep that 99% down—out of public spaces, out of the streets, off the subways, out of mind.

The officials sending out the troops to attack peaceful demonstrators are on the wrong side of history. They will go down in infamy.


davidwlockeNovember 19th, 2011 at 3:44 pm

It will be a long history.

When you use the word "right," I have to go parse out whether you mean correct or "right." Right now has no correlation to the word correct. I usually pass on anything claiming "right." The right is wrong, but worse, they don't care that they are wrong. It's a religious intolerance.

SergioNovember 20th, 2011 at 4:05 am

Great piece. Very inspiring. I find that when we look at OWS in retrospective we will realize that it was something more significant than we thought it to be at the moment. It’s disappointing to see the force against the movement. But the political oligarchy must realize that whether we like it or not this is just the beginning. The social movements will be a constant feature of the US society (as has been of many other places in the world). The problems are not being addressed and thus Americans will continue their discontent with the system as more and more of them realize that they will never be a part of the middle class. Personally, I believe Americans are amongst the most resolute societies in the world. This will be good to create a better future for my children and all of America’s children. God bless America.

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