05 December 2011

Class Warfare at the Tea Party on Wall Street

I walked past Occupy Tacoma on Thursday, December 1st. I would have liked to talk to some of the participants, but my lunch hour was sadly too short, and I had to walk back to my corporate office. Perhaps this week, I will eat a sandwich or raw potato while walking, in order to have more time. Friday would be good, as it is “jeans day,” and I will blend in better. Nothing says “I am the 1%” like a pair of slacks.

It appears there is a concern that the wealthiest 1% of the country have too much influence over the government and how things are run. Then again, the problem could be that there is a top 1%, at all. Are the occupiers giving voice to legitimate concerns about the concentration of wealth, or are they jealous that others have more than they do?

There is a feeling of discontent in the air these days. We saw it in the Arab Spring, where the peoples of Egypt and Libya overthrew the old oppressive governments, in order to institute new oppressive governments. We saw it with the Tea Party movement, which called for lower taxes, a balanced budget, and less government interference. Now we see it with the Occupy Wall Street movement and its subsidiaries.

Unemployment is high, goods are expensive, we are in the midst of at least two long undeclared wars, and many of us have the feeling that the elite of this nation do not have our best interests at heart. These are the times when people storm the Winter Palace, or at least camp outside it for months on end.

One could label the Tea Party as the conservative party of discontent, and Occupy Wall Street as the liberal party of discontent, though many would disagree. Some would say the corporate support for the Tea Party robs it of its authenticity as a movement, while the Occupy Wall Street movement is more pure and spontaneous. Then again, it is not really surprising that corporations are reluctant to support a movement that hates corporations.

Perhaps conservative versus liberal is the wrong way of looking at this. If it is, instead, the establishment versus we the people, the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street could be on the same side. Republicans and Democrats alike receive funding from Wall Street and the top 1%. I am of the opinion that Republicans and Democrats are nearly indistinguishable in office, once the campaigns are over. They both vote for foreign military adventures, they both maintain or increase the deficit, and they both are beholden to special interest groups and wealthy financiers.

I will set aside the Tea Party, for the moment. The Tea Party candidates from 2010 are essentially mainstream Republicans now, if I follow matters correctly. Perhaps the Tea Party will surge into the public eye again after the primaries, but for now, the focus is on the Occupiers.

What do the Occupiers want? One disadvantage to being a spontaneous, disorganized movement is that it is difficult to communicate a coherent message. Instead, there is a collage of different goals and movements. There are the anti-war types, who are still mad at Bush for Iraq and Afghanistan, but have already forgotten about Obama and Libya. There are the socialists, who want to abolish private property, and put us all under the care of the all-powerful state. There are the pro-marijuana people, who show up to all these protests, whether they know what is going on or not. There are university students and recent graduates, who are faced with loan debt and think the rich should cover the costs. There are the pro-choice types who survived their pro-choice parents. And, it must be said, there are a number of people with legitimate complaints and goals.

As they chant and wave their signs, it is clear they are all upset about something, and it is clear they want something of some kind to happen. However, it is not always obvious what they want or how they hope to achieve it. There is a general feeling that the top 1% are responsible for much of what is wrong in this country, and they should be forced to make it right. There are some on the left who believe that if someone is rich, it is because they have stolen from the poor. Therefore, they should be coerced, on pain of death or imprisonment, to give their wealth to those who did not earn it. Have people like Bill Gates, Ted Turner, Donald Trump, and Oprah sinned against the proletariat, and must they pay for their sins?

We should fight for justice, and we should oppose corruption in our government. Businesses should not be given special treatment by the government, nor should they be suppressed or brutally taxed. If they succeed, they succeed; if they fail, they fail. No one is entitled to what another has earned, and no one should be required to pay another's debts. If you want what the rich have, then work for it; don't demand that the government steal from the rich for you. When you say, “The government should pay for this for me,” what you really mean is, “My fellow citizens should pay for this for me.” When you say, “The government should pay for this for me, even if it is in debt and needs to borrow money to pay for it,” what you are really saying is, “Our descendants should pay for this for me.”

I will withhold my final judgment of the Occupiers for now. They do have something to say, under the mess, and it may be that a coherent and positive message will eventually shine through. In the meantime, however, there seems to be a great deal of jealousy and a sense of entitlement. Perhaps, in time, the “gimme” kids will go home, and the mature, serious individuals can raise their voices.

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