Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Not So Shocking Truth About the Crackdown on Occupy Wall Street

Image from Flickr, Mike Licht,
Naomi Wolf’s expose on the federal role in the crackdown on the Occupy Wall Street movement, The shocking truth about the crackdown on Occupy,” has been making the rounds in the liberal blogosphere, getting replayed here and here, for example. In her piece, Wolf calls the violent crackdown on OWS protesters a “civil war” by the U.S. government against its own constituents. She believes that Congress is colluding with Obama to suppress the people they are “supposed to represent” and they are doing it because they have “started entering the system as members of the middle class (or upper middle class) – but they are leaving DC privy to vast personal wealth.”

In other words, Wolf sees a conspiracy by an upstart class of 1%-er wannabes to keep secret the fact that they are enriching themselves on the backs of the 99% so that the 99% will continue to vote for them and so they can continue their nefarious plot to become members of the ruling elite.

Of course there are numerous sinister and disturbing aspects to the crackdown, not the least of which has been its level of violence and the use of military hardware. But the violence is not unprecedented, as Wolf and others decry, nor even deadly.

So far, no one has been killed by the police at OWS protests, though hundreds of workers and activists were killed by the police in other protests and strikes over the past 130 years.  In the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, for example, 10 workers were shot dead by militias just in Maryland and 20 more in Pittsburgh. Many others were killed and injured by militias, police and federal troops in other cities, too. There were numerous other labor struggles in which labor activists were shot and killed by police, militias, private security or vigilantes, on behalf of the bosses (e.g., Homestead, Everett, Columbine, Ludlow, the Battle of Virden, the Colorado Labor Wars of 1903-4, the Battle of Blair Mountain). There were also the massacres of the 60s and early-70s, like Kent State, Jackson State, Southern University and Orangeberg, and the political assassinations (e.g., Fred Hampton, Bobby Hutton, members of MOVE).

Wolf also complains about how the movement has been infiltrated by local and federal law enforcement and vigilantes, while local police responses have been coordinated by the feds. However, none of this is new either, while the “organized and coordinated by the feds” angle isn’t even necessarily true. COINTELPRO, HUAC, McCarthyism and the Palmer raids were all federally-coordinated police responses to domestic activism and infiltration of movements is so routine that one would have to be very naïve to think their political meetings and protests were free of infiltrators and provocateurs.

In order to get to the bottom of this “unprecedented federal coordination” of attacks on the OWS movement, Wolf asked OWS what their message was. Within 15 minutes she received 100 responses. The number one demand was “get the money out of politics.”

This is hardly radical or revolutionary and cannot be the reason for the suppression of the movement. In fact, the demand to reform the political system indicates that they accept and embrace the existing political order. It presumes that the system is inherently good and did, or would, serve the interests of the 99% if only it weren’t so corrupt. Indeed, the goal of reducing the influence of money in politics is such a mainstream idea that it has been sought by mainstream politicians and 1%-ers like John McCain and Russ Feingold.

Their number two demand, according to Wolf, is that the banking system be reformed, by implementing new rules to prevent fraud, for example, and restoring the Glass-Steagall act. Again, this is hardly radical or revolutionary and indicates that they embrace the existing economic order, including the 1%’s right to be much richer than the rest of us. Banks can still exist and make money by exploiting labor; they just need to follow the law.

While none of this is revolutionary, radical or even a remote threat to the hegemony and wealth of the ruling elite, the rich do not want to give up any of their wealth or power. When the rabble rises up, even with modest demands, it is like an uppity housekeeper or an insubordinate employee. The proper response is to aggressively discipline them or else they might get bigger ideas and their contagion might spread. What if OWS decides that banking and political reforms aren’t enough? What if they decide to elect a bunch of greens or demand higher wages or free healthcare for all? What if they manage to organize a real General Strike?

The Shocking Truth is that biggest threat may not be what the OWS protesters are currently demanding, but the sympathy they have garnered among the rest of Americans. According to Michael Moore, 72% of Americans want to increase taxes on the rich. While Moore is not the most trustworthy source, the point is that average Americans are pissed off about their declining wealth, material security and chances of being able to retire in comfort (or at all), and the OWS movement feels to them like the best expression of this angst. They do want the wealthy to pay more in taxes and they want that extra revenue to rejuvenate their schools, parks, libraries and other services.

However, they seem to also want another New Deal, or something like it, and this would really set the rich back.  Under Roosevelt, the marginal tax rate increased to 94%. The corporate tax rate increased from 12% in 1931, to 40% in 1942.  New rules regulating banking, including Glass-Steagall, were passed, that nominally restrained their ability to make profits. The Wagner Act (NRLA) was passed, which nominally restrained employers’ ability to interfere in unions and labor organizing.

It also resulted in a massive increase in government spending on public works, which put people back to work and income into their pockets. This, too, the wealthy cannot stand, as it would require a realignment of government priorities away from subsidizing the wealthy and their businesses and toward subsidizing the 99%.

However, it is just plain absurd to say that this is all about Congress trying to keep the public from learning their dirty little secret and helping them to become members of the 1%. Most members of Congress were already members of the ruling elite well before becoming members of Congress. They came from jobs as CEOs, bankers and large-firm attorneys. And the public has always known that they were enriching themselves further while in Congress. This is probably why their approval of Congress has been so low for so long. With the exception of a blip in 2002, the Congressional approval rating has consistently been less than 40% for the past 36 years.

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