The Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party Tango

If the Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party movements have one thing in common, it’s that there are a lot of pissed off people out there.

Adbusters poster promoting the start date of the Occupy Wall Street movement

The Tea Party is protesting against taxes, government spending and debt issues. The Occupy Wall Street crowd protests against social inequality, injustice and corporate corruption. Together they represent an undercurrent of collective voices motivated by passionate and emotional grievances.

I’m not sure what would happen if the two groups were mixed together at a summer beach party, one side dressed like George Washington and the other as British bomber Guy Fawkes with Vendetta mask. They would both assert their right to free speech and peaceful assembly while accusing the others of being an unruly mob of either socialists or fascist thugs. They both claim to be leaderless and symbolize real democracy in action.

The Wall Street movement began in early July when a Canadian group of social activists called Adbusters sent a message for “20,000 people to flood lower Manhattan” and occupy Wall Street. They joined forces with the group “New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts” and on Sept. 17 about 1,000 attended the first day of protest. More than seven weeks later protests continue and have spread to hundreds of cities worldwide.

Their beef in the U.S. is that incomes of the top 1% have grown substantially more than the other 99%, hence the rally cry of “We are the 99%.” In short, the average Joe has been screwed and change is needed. The movement unofficially issued an official document on Sept. 29 that includes a list of grievances against corporations.

Part of it reads, “We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments.”

That’s a key part. One of the early expressions of Adbusters that fueled the moment begins with one simple demand to launch “a presidential commission to separate money from politics.”

Occupy Wall Street assemby in Washington Square Park Oct. 8

The declaration rails against home foreclosures, bank bailouts and many other negative events blamed on corporate greed. All this has corrupted politicians and the media, ripped off workers and students, destroyed the environment, and thwarted green energy and access to affordable drugs, among other things, it says.

Let me share some views on this expressed by people in the professional networking group I belong to called METal in Los Angeles and run by Ken Rutkowski. Since I didn’t ask their permission I won’t name them but they’re intelligent businessmen from both sides of the political spectrum. The comments are from an e-mail thread on the Occupy Wall Street movement.

The collapse of the housing bubble in 2007 that led to the financial crisis of 2008 and a global economic recession is where a lot of arguments ensue, and for good reason. It resulted in the worst financial crisis since The Great Depression of the 1930s, and inspired both the OWS and Tea Party movements.

“Here’s what we know,” one METal member wrote of the housing bubble. “We had cracks between regulatory agencies,” which made it possible for people to create sham investment vehicles that no one was regulating.

“There was lying to consumers, lying to lending agencies, false documents and value assessments. There was over-stated income and cooked credit applications and robot-signings of stacks of documents by people who had no idea what was inside those documents. There were people selling those investment instruments to pension funds as if they were gold, and telling insider buddies to go short on them.  Ratings companies were being paid to give stamps of approval to bad investment instruments.”

Indeed, one extensive Senate report, concluded “that the crisis was not a natural disaster, but the result of high risk, complex financial products; undisclosed conflicts of interest; and the failure of regulators, the credit rating agencies, and the market itself to rein in the excesses of Wall Street.”

Tea Party protesters fill the National Mall on Sept. 12, 2009.

That’s the dark side of all this. Smart people essentially took money from the gullible. To which another member of METal, the stoutest capitalist I know, said this: “If people are buying financial instruments they don’t understand they should lose all their money. This is capitalism moving the money from the dumb to the smart so it can be better deployed. This goes for people at a slot machine, stock table or hedge fund. It’s a vital part of capitalism.”

Someone else said that Congress essentially created laws and mandates that opened the doors for banks to effectively rip people off.

“The bankers weren’t stupid,” he wrote. “If Uncle Sam was going to effectively pay them, or at the very least, give them carte blanche to dump billions in worthless loans onto the market, and in a way that also let the banks profit on the trading of them, well hell ya!”

As someone else said, “People will game the system.  That’s human nature.  Give me a year to create what I think are ‘iron clad consumer protection laws,’ and within an hour after they’re published, someone will have come up with a way to get around something.”

And maybe that’s what really wrong here, and which has fueled the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street anger. So many people are more focused on getting as big a piece of the pie as possible, everyone else be damned.

I have sometimes wondered what happened to human decency, compassion and honesty. So much of what seems to be wrong, and which has fueled protests here and worldwide, comes down to greed and selfishness. But perhaps it is as my friend said, that this is just true capitalism at work. The strong will finish the weak, and we’ll all be better off as a result.

It’s a harsh reality but a reminder that I have to tend to my own garden. I look at the world and sometimes think it’s insane. And the possibility is still out there of a global economic recession that could get very brutal. I’ve got to protect my world and help others when I can. The events are so big out there and I have no control over what’s going to happen, really. I can live each day in a healthy and wholesome manner and be content that at least my world is sane. I hope you can do the same.

Strength & honor,

Brian Deagon


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