Occupy: on the move
How a broad-based movement came into being, how it's growing, and who's joining up
Published: December 7, 2011
It is also, supporters say, a movement that is still in its infancy, yet to find its full voice.
In addition, observes author, teacher and documentarian Douglas Rushkoff, there is a fair amount of sham to the complaint that the protesters are flailing away at ill-defined targets.
"Anyone who says he has no idea what these folks are protesting is not being truthful," Rushkoff writes. "Whether we agree with them or not, we all know what they are upset about, and we all know that there are investment bankers working on Wall Street getting richer while things for most of the rest of us are getting tougher."
But it goes even deeper in that. The anger is that the system has been corrupted to the core, with the super-wealthy and corporations using their vast economic resources to control the political process, tilting the game ever more in their favor. Like a snowball rolling downhill, getting larger and more powerful as it goes, crushing whatever might try to stand in its way.
What's important about the movement so far is that, even without articulating specific demands, it has already had a noticeable effect on America's political landscape.
"It has changed the conversation in a profound way," lefty filmmaker Michael Moore declared in a recent radio interview. "Seven, eight weeks ago, all we were listening to was about the debt ceiling and the deficit crisis, and ... nobody's talking about that distraction any longer. They're talking about the real issues now that are facing the majority of Americans: jobs, the fact that millions of homes are underwater, that 50 million people don't have health insurance, we have 49 million living in poverty now, we have 40 million adults who cannot read and write above a fourth grade level, that are functional illiterates. That's the nation that corporate America and the banks and Wall Street have created."
Holding a unique place in all of this is the city of Detroit. The town that put the world on wheels and became the Arsenal of Democracy in the fight against fascism, and the same town that helped give birth to the American labor movement, has in recent decades become the epicenter of this country's post-industrial decline.
Now on the verge off insolvency, wracked by poverty and crime and abandonment, the city has long dealt with the sort of crises that washed over the rest of the country when the entire economic system came close to collapsing in 2008.
As was pointed out last year when some 17,000 people made a pilgrimage to Detroit for the U.S. Social Forum — an event that received virtually no mainstream media coverage, yet addressed many of the same issues at the heart of the Occupy movement — Detroiters are ahead of the curve in terms of learning how to deal with economic catastrophe. The people of this city have been taking it on the chin for decades, and have learned how to adapt. The proliferation of urban gardens is just one example of finding ways to cope in the midst of deprivation and desperation.
It is also a city with a long history of radical political movements and social activism, from labor to civil rights and black power.
What we're seeing now, however, even as the echoes of those upheavals are being heard in the Occupy protests, is also different in an essential and crucial way from anything that has occurred within anyone's lifetime.
Mass movements of the recent past were largely driven by single groups that attracted some measure of outside support. The anti-Vietnam War protests were primarily the product of young people of fighting age. Part and parcel of that was a distinct generational divide. Although there may have been many white supporters, the civil rights movement had as its driving force African-Americans. Similar patterns emerged in the gays rights and women's liberation movements.
What's different now, observes Wayne State University history professor Fran Shor, is that the "economic dislocation" of this crisis is so widespread, affecting everyone from professionals at the upper edges of the middle class to blue-collar workers to the working poor.
Framing the issue in terms of the 99 percent is "brilliant branding," says Shor, because it immediately captures the essence of a crisis that crosses racial, ethnic, gender, class and generational boundaries.
Even the rank-and-file of the right-wing Tea Party, which also rose up as a response to the economic meltdown, are outraged by the government's bailout of big banks and Wall Street brokerage houses, while Main Street homeowners — now former homeowners — fall victim to foreclosures and what Shor describes as the "continued predations of the 1 percent."
That's not to say the Tea Partiers are rushing to set up tents in public parks. They definitely are not. But there are areas where fundamental concerns on both the right and left overlap.
Detroit native Lee Gaddies, a media coordinator for the local Occupy group, says he's been getting calls from people in the Tea Party who are concerned about a last-minute amendment to the $662 billion National Defense Authorization Act; the amendment, according to published reports, "would deny U.S. citizens suspected of being terrorists the right to trial, subjecting them to indefinite detention."
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