OPINION | The protesters “occupy” for me and for you


“First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they attack you, then you win.” Attributed to Mahatma Gandhi

Would that it were that simple.

However, the folks who participate in the “Occupy” movement have experienced the first three. If indeed the next step is winning, we’re eager to see what winning will look like.

The “First they ignore you,” part was achieved in New York, as the Occupy Wall Street movement was in place for weeks before any of the mainstream conservative media gave it any serious coverage.

A certain amount of ridicule is implied by the initial lack of coverage, and once the coverage started, the more pointed ridicule was heard as the journalists who had so long ignored the protest now wanted to ensure “balance” in their presentations. One needn’t go far in the media archives and the blogsphere before finding dismissive comments and, despite the journalistically-indefensible lack of early coverage, biting criticism of the media for the amount of coverage the protests are finally receiving.

Compared with the number and determination of protesters, nationwide and beyond, the “attacks” have been few. One, however, is too many. The scenes from Oakland, Calif. are disturbing. Committing violence against peaceful protesters cannot be justified merely because the peaceful protesters are uncooperative.

Locally, the authorities and the protesters seem to be pushing most of the right buttons to keep the peace and to keep the protest. It has been refreshing to hear law enforcement officials speak of their duty to protect the citizens’ rights to peaceful assembly, after the Constitutional disaster that befell those who dared protest during the 2008 Republican convention.

But then, “Occupy” is a different kind of protest. The protesters are asking for things that the vast majority of Americans agree with. The majority, however, has been unwilling to demand that their elected officials rein in the powerful financial interests that are keeping a choke hold on the American economy and creating unemployment and upside-down mortgages for people who did everything they were supposed to do.

For the protesters, the extreme success of the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans stands in sharp and painful contrast to what the rest of us have gone through in the past several years. Many are youthful, just out of college which has left them with huge debts and little hope for the type of employment that would help them pay it off. They have some time, they have networking skills that astound those of us who did not grow up surrounded by computers and mobile communications devices. Some are greatly disappointed that President Barack Obama has not been the progressive President they hoped for, others say the cards were stacked against him and he’s doing about as well as he can.

Many of us might have thought that electing Obama would actually bring about “change.” There’s wisdom to be found with the protesters. They know it takes more. They know that they must show their plight—a plight that most people who are scrambling to make a living have chosen to live with and hope for the best—they must show their plight to the people who constantly benefit from that plight.

So, if Ghandi’s adage is to come true, we hope the “attacks” will remain verbal, and that we can jump quickly to the “then you win” part. That’s not too likely, though. Unlike earlier popular protest movements—such as the civil rights movement, the women’s rights movement and the Vietnam War protest movement—winning in this case is going to be more than a matter of policy. It’s going to cost real people real money, as policy makers acquire the courage to make the wealthy pay a few more of their dollars toward the common good, and then pay the price for their courage. Even the policy-based protests took many different protests and a number of years to have the desired effects. The “occupy” protests won’t solve all kinds of problems all at once.

It is, however, a highly respectable first round that the world is experiencing. The “occupy” protesters, here and everywhere, deserve the gratitude of people who are still working hard to rescue their share of the American dream, and as such can’t be out there protesting.

And eventually, there could be happy endings all around, as even the wealthiest 1 percent will benefit when the comparative pennies they will pay in higher taxes or better financial regulation make their way to the middle class and get the economy moving again.

The wealthiest 1 percent—the so-called “job creators” who own enough of the politicians that they can enforce their demand of “no new taxes”—have had their way for years, and the nation doesn’t have jobs to show for it. Everyone knew that already, but it seemed the sentiment would be spoken and then forgotten. The “occupy” protesters aren’t letting people forget. Time will tell if their strategy works.