OCTOBER 6, 2011 5:14PM

Real Grassroots Populism vs. Surreal Tea Party Astroturf

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As I read about, witness and participate in the Wall Street Occupation (now a national phenomenon), I can’t help thinking back to the powerful image of Michael Moore at the end of “Capitalism: A Love Story” preposterously yet earnestly attempting to enwrap Wall Street with yellow crime scene tape.

I am also pleasantly haunted these days by the Margaret Mead quotation: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

God bless every one of them who has tenaciously hung on down at Liberty Plaza and is still hanging on. It is at long last renewing and activating demoralized liberal hearts across America.

God bless those of us who pre the actual occupation have been actively beating the drums of outrage from cyber protesting to hitting the streets in demonstrations for so many worthy and desperate causes (those activists in particular, risking serious inconveniences including arrest) who have contributed to this now snow-ball-rolling-downhill protest against the predatory oligarchs and a pimped out government that has served them obscenely well these past long and lethal three citizens’ rights- and entitlements-eroding Reaganomics decades.

We have now a government TOTALLY of, for and by the rich.

Robert Scheer declares it is high time for such protest given the nightmare statistics applying to us of the bottom 99% of the citizenry and the surreal misdirected anger of the tea party movement:

But ignore the mass media’s nitpicking and mostly derisive coverage and wonder instead why it took so long for this grass-roots movement to emerge as an alternative to the tea party, which exonerates the thieves of Wall Street. With 25 million Americans unsuccessfully looking for full-time work, 50 million experiencing mortgage foreclosure and an all-time high of 46.2 percent living in poverty, including 22 percent of all children, isn’t it logical that the faux populism of the tea party be confronted with a progressive alternative?

Yes, he is right about the crises now occurring in the lives of so many of us. And the respectfully well-documented ad nauseam by media (as it condescendingly minimizes or ignores any dissent on the left) tea party that “exonerates” the predators and vilifies “big government” not for bailing out the perpetrators of the financial crisis but for daring to consider using citizen tax dollars to support the legitimate entitlements of non-elite citizens. A tea party AND media that also minimize and/or ignore the massive amounts of tax dollars poured into the military security industrial complex.

 Mark Engler observes that it is no wonder the Wall Street occupation was launched primarily by anarchistic youths and student groups. He writes:

Unemployment is between 13% and 25% for people under 25. Student loans are defaulting at about 15% at a time when more young people have no alternative but to borrow to pay for school.

And to add obscene insult to profound injury, CEO bonuses continue to go through the proverbial roof. Engler quoting David Wiedner:

Meanwhile, Wall Street bonuses continue to be paid at close to all-time highs. Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE:GS), took home $13.2 million last year, including a $3.2 million raise.

Yes, Goldman Sachs which was, incidentally, the top contributor that helped insure Obama’s election in 2008, donating a whopping $1,013,091. Blackfein certainly got a lot of bang out of those admittedly considerable bucks, now didn’t he? He got three times that as a raise increase in one year to his already phenomenal yearly income. Corporate donations such as that gave Obama’s promise of “change we can believe in” the substance of cotton candy.

Robert Scheer:

“We bailed out the banks with an understanding that there would be a restoration of lending. All there was was a restoration of bonuses” is the way Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz described it in speaking to the protesters on Wall Street.


While the median pay for top corporate executives has quadrupled since the 1970s, the pay of non-supervisory workers has declined by more than 10 percent.

Mark Engler is optimistic about the traction of the Wall Street protests. Other cities such as Boston, Chicago, LA, St. Louis, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. are its latest settings. He also celebrates it is an “umbrella” structure for mobilization that can make use of, and they it, the “spines” of so many liberal groups focused on specific progressive issues. He writes:

Like the Tea Party, a broad social movement uprising can do much to alter the climate of public opinion, something that can benefit many different progressive campaigns in the medium to long term. Indeed, many who are running more targeted campaigns (with more narrow and winnable goals) are productively linking up with the mobilization.

Engler cites an exciting NYC example of the potential effectiveness of coalitions to this important cause:

In just one amazing display of unity among many, the city’s Transit Workers Union (TWU) issued a blistering condemnation of the NYPD this past weekend after police, in the process of arresting some 700 marchers on the Brooklyn Bridge, commandeered three public buses and forced TWU members to transport their captives. “TWU Local 100 supports the protesters on Wall Street and takes great offense that the mayor and NYPD have ordered operators to transport citizens who were exercising their constitutional right to protest—and shouldn’t have been arrested in the first place,” the union president said.

This was the same day undue force was used on two women who were already detained in a mesh police pen, not resisting arrest, and then were pepper-sprayed in the face. When I showed up at the protest last Saturday I had missed by about 15 minutes the police binge of violence and mass entrapment against the protesters.

As I marched in the rain from City Hall with a large group of protesters heading back to Liberty Plaza post the bridge-scenario, we passed a serious gathering of several hundred cops on the other side of the street, glowering at us with an unsettling stillness. The ratio between us and them I estimated was easily one to one. I wondered if we, too, soon would be arrested. Fortunately, we were not.

Engler points out a blistering analysis by David Wiednerin MarketWatch of how the police arrested the WRONG targets that day subtitled: “‘Occupy Wall Street’ harassed while bankers go free.”


By Saturday, the hundreds of protesters appeared to have lit a fuse with New York City police. There were rough arrests that bordered on brutality. Pepper spray brought tears and pain....

And to a nation’s shock, not one of the police targets was a banker.

So much for law and order.

If you want to know how a nation supposedly by and for the people has become uprooted, one only needs to see how common young people, who are suffering so badly in this recession, were humiliated further by trying to exercise their given right to peacefully protest.

If this is justice, I’d rather break the law.

The bankers who brought us this mess not only walk free, they drive free in Bentleys paid for by money looted through toxic mortgages, trading debacles and derivative madness. Regulators, prosecutors and an administration patsy to big finance do nothing except hand out $1.3 trillion in bailout cash and guarantees.

Consider how sick this narrative has become. A counter protest was planned in which bankers and traders said they would douse the “dirty hippies” of Occupy Wall Street with champagne, to give them “a bath.” ...


These are the people police are protecting.

The ones outraged by greed run amok, reckless behavior and fraud are getting wrestled to the pavement and arrested.


We must have lost a lot of “heroes” that day because what’s left of the NYPD are out there pummeling the young and disenfranchised. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, a front-runner for mayor in 2013, has, by blessing this behavior, ingratiated himself to the moneyed crowd that doesn’t want a way of life disrupted by dirty hippie riffraff.

Just watch the donations roll in.

A righteously angry Wiedner concludes:

Government wasn’t intended to be bought and paid for by financial interests. Our nation’s economy wasn’t supposed to be built on fraud and abuse. If that came to pass, you’d expect people to be angry.

You’d expect people to get roughed up. You’d expect a revolution.

And you’d expect the system would fight like hell to keep it down.


By the way, Mark Engler shared two compelling links in his article that are well worth a look:

 Testimonials of the Wall Street Protest Participants - Testimonials of the Wall Street Protest Participants -http://wearethe99percent.tumblr.com/

Wall Street Posters


[cross-posted at correntewire and sacramento for democracy] 

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I can't believe I read the whole thing. hah! Great Post Libby, I had read some of those, but others were great. I particularly liked the Tumblr 99 Percent article. The photos were great and so was this post. Good job~~
very cool that you attended the protests & thx much for the comments on my blog. its going to be a long hard road toward social justice but at least the battle has finally been joined.
Thanks, scanner, appreciate your enthusiasm. Sorry, I at first had a bad link for the testimonials. Glad you hunted it down. :)

vzn, thanks for the comment! I am very excited that there is a tenaciousness among these protesters to keep this momentum going. Yes, indeed, the road to social justice is a long and frustrating one! Thanks for filling me in about adbusters! great posters!!!

Not only are there more real grass roots protestors associated with the Occupy Wall Street movement but there are also many other movements that are also real grass roots movements and the media is ignoring the majority of them or trying to present it as an unorganized mess. To some degree they are unorganized but not completely; in many cases the reason the Mass Media finds a lack of organization is because they don’t want to find out what it is about so they’re not trying to do a good job.

After MSNBC started providing a fair amount of coverage they seem to have decided it was enough and began cutting back replacing it with the Steve Jobs obsession and other coverage. They managed to find an hour to put on a reminder to the Chile coal mind disaster which happened a year ago and isn’t urgent at all. A couple of the less known organizations include october2011.org which was pointed out by Janice Wood and Voters Evolt! which was pointed out by Scanner. I’m sure there are many more including Rebuilding the Dream which did get a fair amount of media attention but it probably isn’t the best one to address many issues otherwise they probably wouldn’t have received much Media attention.
zachd, thanks for your always penetrating insights and observations! libby