Take “Occupy Wall Street” complaints seriously, don’t use force to disperse them

Americans pay attention when a lot of people turn out. And so there’s lots of attention for “Occupy Wall Street,” or OWS for short. Thousands of people, mostly of the Millennial generation (born since 1982) are camping out in Zuccotti Park, just two blocks from Wall Street’s New York Stock Exchange.

The Right doesn’t like OWS: “I think it’s dangerous, this class warfare,” Mitt Romney opines. “Growing mobs,” snarls Eric Cantor. “Anti-American,” Larry Kudlow charges. “The beginning of totalitarianism,” warns Ann Coulter.

OWS comprises lots of people, diverse in temperament, opinion, and goals, but they are engaging in old-fashioned American protest, this one against corporate greed, social inequality, and joblessness.

Some dismiss them as incoherent, but that’s a mistake. They’re angry about the way our society has moved away from the American dream and toward greater and greater inequality. Like them or not, OWS is a growing force. Our country needs to take their complaint seriously. They may be as consequential as Tahrir Square. Or more. Or maybe not.

Of course there’s always a danger when a mass of people congregate. Large numbers of peaceful people can give cover to wrongdoers bent on looting or mayhem, as in the recent London riots, or in the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles in 1992, which started as a peaceful protest but left 53 dead and swaths of LA in ashes.

The authorities err badly when they over-react. Herbert Hoover sent the police, then the Army to break up the bonus marchers who gathered in Washington in 1932. Only two people died, but the images of the U.S. Cavalry charging into the encampment of the veterans sealed Hoover’s defeat in the coming election.

New York may be determined to repeat Hoover’s blunder. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, normally a sensible public servant, has announced that the OWS people will have to vacate the park for cleaning Friday, after which they will be allowed to return, but no tents or sleeping bags. That’s a formula for disaster.

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8 Responses to “Take “Occupy Wall Street” complaints seriously, don’t use force to disperse them”

  1. Ethics Bob Takes on the Topic of the Wall Street Protests - Pilant's Business Ethics | Pilant's Business Ethics Says:

    […]  Take “Occupy Wall Street” complaints seriously, don’t use force to disperse them […]

  2. janpchapman Says:

    Thanks for a thoughtful and not snarky post. These people have something important to say, and I’m not sure how they’re going to accomplish their goals, but to discount them would be a mistake. Like the Tea Party, they have their weirdos, but also their intelligent spokespeople that, hopefully, will have an impact on what happens in government. Finally, perhaps the Left is energized!

  3. Ethics Bob Says:

    Yes, both the Tea Partiers and the Occupy’ers have some crazies in their midst–that’s one of the big problems with mass protests. It’s misleading and unfair for the media to focus purposely on the outliers. Both Left and Right have been guilty of this.

  4. Jack Marshall Says:

    Bob, I think when opportunistic types like PETA, Kanye West and the public unions join a protest, cynicism is justified, and incoherence is a fair verdict.

    That, and outrageous irresponsibility. Calling for prosecutions when no laws have been violated in irresponsible; arguing that “all debts everywhere” should be forgiven is irresponsible, The fact that the cynical left is embracing this mob—with its violent, “kill the rich” rhetoric: what happened to all those Democrats complaining about the Right’s “eliminationist rhetoric”?—doesn’t mean that conservatives are being partisan to criticize it, but that the progressives/Democrats are beyond desperate to join a “blame someone else” movement when its attempts at governing have been an epic failure. And when these iphone carrying “working class heroes”—the descendant s of the Gucci shoe-wearing SDS demonstrators who kept shutting down my college for “social justice”– eventually do what mobs always do—get abusive,, vicious and violent, Democrats will pay the price, just like they did in 1968 and 1972.

    It’s crazy, Bob. The end result is so predictable.You can wait until I’m proven right, but as a student of history, you shouldn’t have to.

    • Ethics Bob Says:

      Jack, I fear you’re upset about your lost college days.

      I wouldn’t attribute Kanye West’s or PETA’s views to the mass of the demonstrators. Most of the ones I’ve seen interviewed seem quite reasonable. I haven’t heard anybody saying “Kill the rich.” And “forgive all debts” isn’t a central part of the demonstrators platform (as much as we can guess about their platform).

      I also don’t think it’s fair–or accurate–of you to blame these folks for wearing Guccis and shutting down your college. That was a different generation.

      My concern with the majority of this assembly–or assemblies–is not that they’re irresponsible, but that they, like all mass demonstrators, give cover to those who are. And that way lies mayhem. I’m not happy about OWS, but I think they represent an important phenomenon, and I hope the demonstrations don’t end badly for everyone.

  5. janpchapman Says:

    In my opinion, the situation is being handled much more responsibly in Los Angeles: http://www.kcet.org/updaily/1st_and_spring/communities/city-council-occupy-la.html And before you write it off as another flaky California thing, read the entire article. The protesters have encouraged the city council to focus on a year-old resolution which rewards banks for reinvesting in the community instead of foreclosing on homeowners. I believe that is a worthy objective that OWS could adopt all over the country. (Sorry if that does not show up as a link; I’m not very good at this).

  6. Ethics Bob Says:

    Jan, your link works fine. As a flaky Californian I’m good with the Council’s resolution. I’m concerned, however, over how OWS will end. Like a war with no exit strategy this protest could well go on and on until it takes a bad turn. Most mass protests do unless they have a MLK to keep them non-violent.

  7. Occupy Wall Street, the Tea Party, and the Ethics of Mass Action « Ethics Bob Says:

    […] written recently about the twin dangers of mass demonstrations: the cover that a lot of peaceful people can […]

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