Former Labor Secretary and economist Robert Reich wrote yesterday about our sad state of circumstances when corporations have acquired personhood, campaign spending is protected speech, yet a message of dissent embodied by Occupy Wall Street encampments is crudely quashed.
Indeed, the more thought one is inclined to give it and the more one seeks to place it in context, the more the coordinated campaign to put the Occupy encampments out of business strikes one as both woeful commentary on the nature of current democracy in the United States and reason for healthy disdain.
It is impossible to fathom any genuinely compelling reason for municipalities to react with such aggravation and forcefulness to occupiers and their encampments. The protestors have been in very large part peaceful and cooperative. Although acts of civil disobedience have at times accompanied the occupations they have been anything but menacing. Though references in statements by city officials to crime and drugs have been a common refrain, minimal supporting evidence has been offered. To the contrary, many visitors from journalists to celebrities to interested parties to general sympathizers have reported that the encampments are remarkably organized and extremely positive in a multitude of ways.
So are city officials genuinely outraged at trivial violations of city ordinances? Are they taking personal umbrage at what they perceive as an inherent defiance of their authority by the continued encampments? Have the former triumphed over any recognition of the significance and seriousness of this movement as a form of democratic speech at an economically precarious time for the country? Do corporate flacks like the Chamber of Commerce, persistent advocates for the one percent exercise inordinate sway over city governments (Okay, this one is rhetorical)?
And so we have the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security getting involved. What one may conclude from such an array of power amassed against a peaceful democratic protest movement is that the powers-that-be federally and locally retain a remarkably sour, top-heavy, jaundiced and shockingly uncomprehending vision of civic life and civil society. When city officials and even the federal security apparatus reflexively marshal force against an idealistic, and by the way analytically correct, and widely supported movement primarily initiated by and comprised of young Americans anxious for vibrant participation in the democratic process, their methods about the only ones available to ordinary people at this stage, one would think the Haqqani Network had set up camp rather than democratically engaged American citizens.
Juxtapose these coordinated efforts with several developments over the last few days. The Agriculture Department of Barack Obama, for whom incidentally most of these occupiers voted, has made the effort to require schools receiving federal support for lunches to provide a healthy diet to an increasingly obese population of youths. Who could be against that? Well, agribusiness and the Republican Party, that’s who. So the states that grow potatoes and the companies that sell them, along with the corporation peddling frozen pizzas to schools rev the lobbyists up, buttonhole the appropriate Republican congressional bagmen for the one percent, and even this micro-level of change that we can believe in is headed for the morgue.
Of course this is a regulatory morsel ripe for demagoguery by the medieval right. They’re delighted if the federal government defines marriage or determines the moment personhood arrives. But try to get a kid to eat a carrot and you have tampered with the primal forces of nature (attribution to Paddy Chayefsky’s “Network” there). Not a matter of monumental import perhaps, but that’s the point. Whether it’s as relatively modest an initiative (though in the long run the impact could well be nearly monumental) as this, or as large as adopting the efficient (and humane) universal health insurance every other modern democracy has sensibly adopted, one can see whose speech is all but exclusively listened to now in America.
While many would view this fully monetized representation as a bastardization of democratic government so insidious as to make the Founders somersault in their crypts, not surprisingly it has its jaded defenders among the usual suspects. Last evening on Lawrence O’ Donnell’s show former official mouthpiece for Newt and Quayle (yes, you can find that in the meat department of your local grocer) Rich Galen dismissed all alarm at such corruption of the process when it was iterated by Chris Hayes of MSNBC and the Nation. His quills brimming with establishment cynicism-dipped poison he invoked the Constitution’s guarantee of the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. He all but smarmily introduced vocalizing units of currency into the document itself.
One could all but hear thinking people across the land shouting to their televisions that the witless Galen had established most emphatically with his inept cynicism that the more money you wield the more of your grievances will be redressed. No money, no redress, pal. Some might conclude that if Galen’s remains the prevailing vision of our Republic, and the end result is an economic royalty exclusively decreeing the nation’s affairs in a phony people’s democracy, perhaps it would be preferable and quite refreshing to revert to an honest aristocracy, feudalism or even monarchy rather than sham democracy and all but counterfeit form of capitalism.
In the meantime, Occupy for all its energy and infectiousness and surprisingly incisive homing in on the nation’s real ills, is a veritable mouse squeak against this hegemony, though apparently threatening enough or at the least inconvenient enough to spur those in charge of major American cities and American security organs into a show of authority. There’s something rotten in Denmark and it isn’t stinkweed from Humboldt County wafting from the Occupy camps.