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Go to Wall Street

I have often remarked that Occupy Wall Street filled a hole in the American democracy. Even I, a skeptic of the intentions of many business institutions and a constant critic of current policies, didn’t quite realize there was so big a hole. I thought America’s true concerns were being diverted, even thwarted, by special interests, new procedural obstacles in Congress, and an ideologically backward Supreme Court.  What I didn’t fully grasp was that the anger, frustration and confusion of the America people were not getting conveyed to government, the media or even many progressive think tanks.

To the contrary, there was a lot of talk about why the unemployed were not speaking up, why so many economically hurting Americans were voting for Republicans who wanted to rip up the social safety net, and why so few voted at all.  Americans could have voted differently, if they cared to, we were told.   Americans often didn’t vote at all.

Suddenly, this has changed.  The growth of OWS and its proliferation around the world is something of a miracle.    Contrary to all the pros, who demand that political groups have clear objectives  and policy changes in mind,  those who launched OWS struck a deep vein in America and elsewhere.  Many Americans were angry, but they apparently did not know how to channel it or felt it futile to try. Apparently, many found the nation’s current democratic institutions and alleged free press not worth bothering about lost faith in them. Now someone at last was giving them voice.

The instinct was right at the start. Go to Wall Street. That’s not only where the crisis was begat, but it’s also where all the power is. Washington is not on the American power map, in truth.  Power is in money because elections are so expensive now. Power is where the money is, not where the legislation is passed.  And even much of the legislation is now written by lobbyists.

And much of the top 1 percent is on Wall Street. Those who manage businesses and  are in the top 1 percent are also really beholden to the Street as well.  They make their money now through stock options, which in turns requires them to get the share price up.  Once Wall Street worked for business, now business works for Wall Street.

To poke around at a few policy points, however important,  would not have worked.  The reason is simple. Too much has gone wrong in America.  When the easy=chair pundits say that OWS has to work on solutions, I can understand the OWS participants skepticism.  They have been told this for years.  They have been told that most cynical of things as well: that bipartisanship is how you get things done.

Really?  Are small compromises going to put the nation on the right track?     This nation needs a radically reformed healthcare system, trillions of dollars over ten years of investment, a generous social net as the job machine fails and people fall into outright poverty, and serious taxes on the well-off.  It needs public financing of elections and a press that is not essentially part of the entertainment conglomerate monopoly. Is there a bipartisan middle that will get to that?

The OWS people I speak to want to learn about the options, about what happened to America. Democrats and Republics, for the most part, won’t tell them. The mainstream press for the most part won’t, either.  But I’d like to impress upon them that there are exceptions.  There are Congress people whose constructive, deeply held and accurate views have been checked by financial power and political stalemate. They should be sought out.  There are members of even the major media who understand and will carry the message.

For now, I think OWS and their affiliates around the world should ask questions, not give answers. Funny how their educated, established, experienced  elders (OWS are mostly young) are telling them to establish policy demands. In other words, work up your own answers. On balance, most of them are still seeking answers because they know they don’t know it all, unlike their elders.  Such humility could serve the rest of us  pretty well.

But there may come a time when the movement needs a goal. For me, they must for now go where they see injustice. Their cause is not narrow economic reform, but social justice.  We have been told that a free market would lead to social justice. It hasn’t. It hasn’t even led to true prosperity.  We need a new mix.

So when people scoff at this movement for not having a clear agenda, I answer that they do. Go to shine a light on injustice.  And, furthermore, they have seen that your answers have failed. Something’s missing in America, in their minds, and they are still searching for it. They are mostly right. I’d like to see them connect with some members of Congress. I’d like to see some splinter groups fight for some change, like public financing of elections and against the absurd historical twist that has given us austerity economics in so many places around the world.

If that takes a while, that’s ok.  Even if the weather gets the better of them this winter, they have shown remarkable grace under pressure. Maybe that will work.   That, and giving voice to an angry and confused America that is likely well down the road of decline.

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