Let’s for a moment take Occupy Wall Street at face value. Before giving the OWS crowd a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, consider this: is their message “I want more” or is it “You should have less”? Therein lies the difference between constructive and destructive, American and un-American.
Striving for a better life has been the engine of American progress throughout our history. Immigrants flock to our shores seeking freedom – freedom to pursue their dreams. Many have come, and come today, hoping to earn a more generous wage and build a better future for their children.
These are not the ambitions of the OWS mob. Instead, they want to attack our most productive citizens -- the “One Percent” – people like Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, George Soros, Jim Walton, Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Dell, Kobe Bryant – people of distinction who have made a mark in the world.
They want to embarrass those who own big homes or who wield influence.
This isn’t about holding bankers responsible – this is about resenting our culture of achievement. Do those squatting in Zuccotti Park want the chance to work hard and a shot at the brass ring, or do they simply want to strip the successful of their rewards? Placards claiming “Robin Hood Was Right” say it all.
In any event, the slogans of the motley crowd don’t tell the real story behind OWS. This isn’t about the little guy-- but about the Big Guy, as in Big Labor. For both organized labor and the White House, the outbursts are a carefully nurtured strategic weapon.
President Obama is employing age-old political tactics – channeling the mounting anger of the populace in a new direction and away from himself. If he can convince the millions who are unemployed, homeless, and disillusioned that someone else is to blame for the mess our country is in, his future beyond 2012 shines a whole lot brighter.
Similarly, labor unions have much to gain from the OWS protests. The SEIU, which is encouraging its members to join the rallies, has just endorsed President Obama for reelection in 2012. This unusually early support for the president tells a tale: the powerful union, whose former chief Andy Stern was the most frequent visitor to the White House during Obama’s first year in office, is scared to death. The country has turned against organized labor – and especially against the public service unions (the only source of member growth in recent years). The SEIU has over one million members who work for state and local governments, whose pay and retirement benefits have begun to sink as hard-pressed taxpayers yell “enough!”
Here’s a secret: the SEIU, too, needs to deflect public anger – anger from their members who are being laid off or whose pay packages are being snipped and anger from taxpayers across the country who see their cities and states being swallowed alive by the outsized benefits and pensions awarded public employee unions in recent decades. Nothing could be more rewarding than creating a straw man- the “One Percent” -- to blame for SEIU’s fall from grace.
The union’s president Mary Kay Henry was arrested last week during the protests in New York. Her commitment to OWS was voiced in a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal which was as intellectually vapid as the movement itself.
“The importance of Occupy Wall Street can't be measured by any set of demands. What's more important to understand are the values that unite the protesters and their authentic understanding of what has gone wrong in our economy.”
What values? Seriously -- authentic understanding? From a group that brandishes signs advocating “Shoot Sperm Not Bullets” or “Close Corporate Tax Loopholes, Tax Religious Groups, End the Wars, Legalize Weed and Bring Back Arrested Development”?
Stephen Lerner, a former official of the SEIU, spoke to students at Pace University last March about a plan to “destabilize” the country. Lerner, described by Ezra Klein in the Washington Post as “one of the smartest organizers in the labor movement”, suggested various means of “bringing down capitalism” including civil disobedience, mass defaults on mortgages and student loans, strikes and large-scale protests.
Lerner pushed these measures to hit back against the forces undermining unions, which he described as “almost dead.” He advocated efforts to “bring down the stock market” and to “interfere with the ability to be rich.” He proposed that unions alone would not be able to effect such a ground-shaking movement; they would need students and community groups to take the lead. And, to provide cover for organized labor.
This is the spring from which OWS has flowed. Lerner and other labor activists have been involved in the protests from the beginning. They want to create mayhem, or in his words “disrupt how the system operates.” He wants to distract Americans from our real problems – and the failings of the Obama administration – while at the same time rebuilding the power of unions.
All those hapless students and community activists blocking traffic and worse are tools for organized labor.
And, despite their “authentic understanding,” they don’t even know it.