21 November 2011


Virtually since its appearance, the non-violent Occupy movement has been the target of overreactive force by police officers (see image above, click to enlarge). As the movement has grown, so has the severity of physical abuse committed by law enforcement. Not since the turbulent late 1960s and early 1970s have we seen such a clash between peaceful (and legal) public protest and violent containment by those whose job is purportedly to serve and protect.

I'm deeply troubled by this. I was raised immersed in the traditions of freedom and civil rights which are spelled out in the U.S. Constitution ~ including the right of assembly and free speech. To see images of these rights being trampled upon (here is one video example) by the very social agents who should be protecting them evokes a cognitive dissonance which can only be resolved by speaking out. I stand foursquare on the side of the Occupy movement, both in their right to peaceful assembly and in the issues of protest which they voice.

In his Psychology Today article Michael Chorost describes the video, and places it in the context of the larger protest movement. "This event is powerfully symbolic. It is about contempt from those in power and the wanton use of force against the powerless. We have seen similar things over and over again in the past few years. We have seen banks lobbying for public handouts and then denying relief to millions of exploited homeowners. We have seen it in tax breaks and bonuses for the rich while millions of Americans are out of work. We have seen it in church and university officers abusing children and then covering it up. We have seen it in the censorship of climate science performed in the public interest. We have seen it in the absurd declaration that corporations are 'people' and entitled to spend millions of dollars to elect representatives that they will then own. We have seen it everywhere we turn.

"The police officer is Congress. Our banks. Our clerics.

"The students are us.

"If I had to sum up the attitude of America's governing classes in one word, I would say contempt."

Chorost goes on to point out that far from having a random and inarticulate message, the Occupy movement has been quite clear all along. "They want a fairer tax system. They want a sane energy policy that addresses climate change and searches for cleaner ways to power our civilization. They want a government that is not wholly owned by the rich. They want access to justice and education. They want a reasonable hope of getting and keeping a job that gives them a living wage and the ability to invest in the future.

"They want a rational health care system that they can afford. They want government policy that is driven by thoughtful attention to rational research, not ideology. They want a transparent government that holds the powerful accountable. They want a government that understands the importance of investing now in human capital and infrastructure."

It is worth noting that the nation's two populist movements, the more conservative Tea Party movement and the more liberal Occupy movement, have reminded us of a necessary truth from the civil rights and antiwar movements ~ that to effect change, it is necessary to get the attention of the public, and to persuade the public that the change you propose is desireable. The Tea Party is failing largely because it is a 'faux movement, funded by secretive billionaires and so aggressively, laughably ignorant that neither it nor its candidates could retain credibility for long. But Occupy Wall Street is much more broadly based. It has a large and powerful set of progressive ideas to draw upon.' And it is no exaggeration that ultimately the Occupy movement does speak for the disenfranchised 99% of us whose wealth does not control Washington.

Lest the gentle reader think that the notion of corporate control of government is unfounded, I invite you to take a peek at this pair of seating charts which portray the memberships of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, color-coded to indicate the corporate interests which gave each member the most money over that member's career. The donors include finance-insurance-real estate, lawyers-lobbyists, the healthcare industry, agribusiness, labor, energy and natural resources corporations, communications/electronics, defense contractors, and transportation and construction corporations. The funding for several prominent House and Senate leaders are presented in more detail.

Who owns Congress? The Founders intended the answer to be we, the people. If we were to mandate that NO Senator or Representative could receive funding from corporate interests or lobbyists, as proposed recently by Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), we would be in a position to restore control of our government to the citizens it serves. The individual and corporate excesses of greed and power we've increasingly suffered over the past 30 years might not disappear entirely, but they would be profoundly illegal. As they should be.

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