Occupy OKC and the overall “occupy movement” has the attention of the local corporate power structure here judging from the sustained, mocking criticism by its public relations branch, The Oklahoman editorial page.
Last Wednesday, the newspaper’s editorial page called the movement’s protesters “idiots.” On Monday, it referred to t-shirt slogans superficially connected to the movement as “garden-variety anarchy.” At least three editorial cartoons making fun of the demonstrators have been published (at least on NewsOK.com, the newspaper’s internet site) in the last week or so. Is it simple conservative media overkill or real paranoia creeping in?
What the movement will become is anyone’s guess, and by its nature the movement will not follow a rigid hierarchy, but it’s safe to say the wealthiest among us-those called the 1 percent-are at least paying attention if not becoming deeply concerned about where all this might lead. Oklahoma City obviously seems like an unlikely place for a sustained, progressive-like protest, but the tents were still up in Kerr Park Monday afternoon.
Here are three points to consider:
(1) Baby boomers, in particular, should consider the movement’s growing power and potential. I would argue that, in general, those born shortly after the end of World War II were able to attend college without going into deep debt and were given more job opportunities than those graduating from college now. Paul Campus, a law professor at the University of Colorado in Boulder, has a valid take on the “age divide” between the current protesters and baby boomers. Don’t forget the 1960s and 1970s civil rights and anti-war protests on the streets, the marches, the sit-in, the teach-ins and, of course, the music, which still resonate today.
(2) The historical precedents of this movement cannot be stressed enough. As I’ve written before, spontaneous and planned protests were often locally produced in the late nineteenth-century Gilded Age and then again in the 1920s and 1930s. The gains for the middle class were ultimately huge, though it took years for results after the protests began. What we live in now is another Gilded Age with great wealth disparity. That’s not an exaggeration. The richest 1 percent of Americans own 40 of all personal wealth. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman made this point in a Monday commentary:
Median family income, adjusted for inflation, grew only about a fifth as much between 1980 and 2007 as it did in the generation following World War II, even though the postwar economy was marked both by strict financial regulation and by much higher tax rates on the wealthy than anything currently under political discussion.
Here’s how Professor Henry A. Giroux connects today’s movement with similar moments in our history:
. . . while the historical circumstances producing modes of class warfare have changed, the basic contours of the struggle have been consistent and highlight an ongoing and unjust division between a bloated class of capitalists and financiers on the one hand, and the rest of society largely subject to the reckless policies of the rich and excluded from the vast wealth, resources and benefits enjoyed by the top one percent of American society on the other.
(3) Wages are stagnant, people are underemployed and health costs are skyrocketing. Some are calling those young people unable to enter the work force right now a “lost generation.” Poverty is on the rise and state and local governments are cutting services. Meanwhile, wealthy people today pay less in taxes than they did when Ronald Reagan was president, and banks, according to some, are declining to loan money even though they were bailed out by the federal government for their incompetence and greed.
One specific demand from some protesters is that the federal government should forgive all student loan debt, an idea worth serious consideration. MoveOn.org is floating a petition that calls on Congress and the president to support a resolution by U.S. Rep. Hansen Clark (D-MI), which calls for this action. The debt forgiveness could be viewed as economic stimulus because it would put most of the loan-payment money directly back into the economy.
The corporate power structure and their media enablers here can mock this movement all it wants, but my bet is the main ideas behind the protest will be sustained in one form or another until there’s more economic fairness and justice in this country. It’s all in the numbers, which are only going to grow, maybe quickly, maybe slowly, but it’s only a matter of time.