It has been many years since I read Animal Farm, the book every kid had to read in high school as a warning against becoming like our Cold War enemy, the Soviet Union. But I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.
It’s not always as easy as it should be to grasp the point of an allegory. One of my classmates wrote in a paper, “Animal Farm is a very stupid book, because everyone knows animals can’t talk.”
She obviously didn’t get it, but actually I don’t think any of us really got it, because Orwell was warning us, not just about where communism might lead, but about almost exactly what our capitalist republic has become. “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” could just as easily apply to the 1% vs the 99%.
For months I have wanted to say on this blog what I thought about the Occupy Wall Street movement, but because I am leery of bandwagons and because my opinion kept changing, I’ve been watching and waiting. I have been by turns fascinated, inspired, pissed off, and encouraged all over again by this strange uprising.
It seems like such a jumble of people and viewpoints, yet it has a definite purpose and a strange kind of order. The movement’s insistence on staying leaderless is both a problem and a stroke of genius. A problem because it’s hard for the group to rein in strong-willed types who do things that are counterproductive. Genius because it’s impossible for the authorities to shut down. The police have tried to pick out the people they thought were leaders and arrested them, but it made no difference. I’m pretty sure nothing like this would exist without the Internet. A friend of mine refers to OWS as “the Bittorrent uprising.”
My opinion of the protesters rises and falls depending on OWS actions — they’ve had some big successes and some pretty serious failures. But there’s no doubt in my mind that they are asking the right questions of the right people.
Three years into a recession that’s beginning to look like it might become a depression or just the way things are going to be from now on, why is it that the lower, working and middle classes are suffering so much, while the richest Americans are doing better than ever? Why did the banks receive trillions of dollars after their real estate speculation bubble collapsed, but regular Americans got foreclosed? Why haven’t the people who committed fraud on Wall Street been arrested and put on trial for what they did? Why haven’t laws been enacted to keep them from doing the same thing and wrecking the economy even further?
The answer seems to be that the captains of banking and industry have become so powerful they are for all intents and purposes, our true government. Politicians merely give us an illusion of choice. They do what the rich want, and many times they’re the same people. Charts like the one below make it pretty clear that we have a problem.
I think most Americans realized what the problem was on some level. There has been a growing discontent, even rage, just waiting for an outlet. OWS has provided that.
Some of OWS’s proposed solutions include: 1) Reversing the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that gave corporations the ability to pour infinite amounts of cash into the election process, 2) restoring the Glass-Steagall Act that used to keep investment banks and commercial banks separate, 3) making it illegal for members of congress to buy and sell stock based on insider information.
I’m not sure how far they will get with our deadlocked Congress. Democrats and Republicans are unwilling to compromise and both are pretty much bought. But I think they know by now that they’re on notice. People are getting tired of the talk and they want solutions.
The Occupy movement may have its flaws, but it has already had a huge impact. Before they came along, we were entering a political season with almost no mention of income inequality or unemployment. Now they can’t ignore it. I think when spring comes we will see a lot of protests and very different campaigns. The protesters might have been kicked out of their encampments, but they’re not going away.
I have a rule of thumb: When the police feel the need to beat up and abuse protesters, they must have been protesting the right thing. And speaking of which… The Occupy movement has performed another extremely valuable service: Exposed our rapidly growing police state.
The police tactics used on the Occupiers have been way, way out of proportion. Beatings, pepper spray, tear gas, LRAD sound cannons (look it up, it’s creepy as hell), media blackouts, journalists attacked and arrested. Our police forces have changed a lot since 9-11, and we no longer have the right to free speech that we thought we had.
The protesters aren’t perfect. I’ve fussed at them on more than one occasion. But even if they’re doing it wrong, at least they’re doing it. And somebody had to. We have a disturbing number of authoritarians in this country who think order should be preserved under all circumstances. But when you have serious problems that aren’t getting resolved through the establishment, it’s time to shake things up. The Occupiers have my gratitude for putting themselves on the line for me and the rest of the 99%.
If you want to get it from the horse’s mouth, visit the website for Occupy Wall Street’s General Assembly in New York at http://www.nycga.net/. Or another OWS website I like to visit from time to time: http://occupywallst.org/
You might also find the Occupy protest for your city and go down in person. I went down to Occupy Austin a few weeks ago, talked to a few people, heard a very interesting lecture on Gandhi from a UT professor, and sat in on a General Assembly.
And since this is a music blog, let me end this post with a link to Occupy Radio, a collection of mixes on Soundcloud featuring cool beats and samples of protest activity, newscasts, speeches, etc.
Trip hop musicians Massive Attack also put together annother Occupy Radio, a collection of mixes in support of Occupy London. I’ll make another post at some point with some songs I think embody the spirit of the movement.