By Sally Kohn, ,
Published May 07, 2015
For a small but merry band of conspiracy theorists, Stephen Lerner is the lynchpin of the rising “red army” of anti-capitalist radicals in America. For everyone else -- those struggling to make ends meet in an economic system that we know is rigged against ordinary Americans -- Stephen Lerner is a hero.
In March of this year, Lerner came to the attention of anti-middle class extremists for his statements calling for mass, non-violent civil disobedience to fix our imbalanced, broken economy. Lerner, an executive board member of the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, said at a conference that activists need to “disrupt and create uncertainty for capital, for how corporations operate.”
The financial crisis was caused by big banks taking on enormous, irresponsible risks and then, when those bets failed, passing the bill to the American people. The banks were bailed out as hardworking Americans were pushed deeper under water. Lerner suggested that what's needed is a “new financial crisis” -- one that put the American people back in the driver's seat of our economy and political system and finally makes Wall Street pay for its monstrous mistakes.
Lerner said all this, even wrote about it, too. And then a mere few months later, Occupy Wall Street launches, and Lerner's dream becomes a reality.
Aha! Caught red handed! Lerner must be the mastermind of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and since Lerner works for SEIU, that means unions were behind Occupy Wall Street all along. But wait, there's more! Lerner's son, Jeffrey Lerner, used to work in the White House and now works for the Democratic National Committee. Undeniable proof that Barack Obama, the guy who collected more campaign donations from Wall Street executives than anyone in history, is behind the Occupy Wall Street movement as part of the president's long-standing agenda to destroy America and turn us into communist Russia. Finally, the truth -- brought to you by a cluster of extremists who wouldn't know truth if it bit them with a birth certificate -- is out. Phew.
Except for a few pesky facts.
On September 8, 2011, almost 10 days before Occupy Wall Street launched, Stephen Lerner explicitly argued unions couldn't lead the movement he'd previously envisioned. In a piece entitled, “On the Contrary: A New Insurgency Can Only Arise Outside the Progressive and Labor Establishment,” written for the New Labor Forum, Lerner wrote that a movement to make our economic and political system more just could “only arise outside the progressive and labor establishment.” Lerner wrote, unions are “just connected enough to the political and economic power structure to be constrained from leading the kinds of activities that are needed.”
And in an interview with the Washington Post's Ezra Klein earlier this month, after Occupy Wall Street had started, Lerner basically laments the fact that while organizing campaigns he and unions had been part of “support and ping-pong off one another” --- those actions, which have been building over the last year, did not galvanize the same public attention and energy as Occupy Wall Street. In other words, while Lerner probably wishes he were the mastermind of Occupy Wall Street, calling him such is far more flattery than fact.
Yes, Stephen Lerner is a community organizer. And yes, Barack Obama was a community organizer. I was, too. But I guarantee you, if that meant I automatically had the president's ear, he damn well would be out fighting excessive Wall Street greed and abuse in our economy instead of begging for the campaign contributions and placating banks with soft regulations. Moreover, anyone who thinks that Stephen Lerner's son Jeffrey is an automatic mouthpiece for his father clearly has never been a parent. Never mind the fact that the positions of economic power in the Obama administration have been held by Wall Street sycophants like Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers, the very people Stephen Lerner sees as part of the problem, not part of his solution.
Anti-middle class extremists are resorting to the politics of personal destruction to distract from the profound and popular merits of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Polls continue to show that, among those who hold an opinion about Occupy Wall Street, the majority support the movement and agree that our economy isn't working for working people.
Rather than face the fears and frustrations of the American public head on, those in business and government who want to preserve the grossly imbalanced status quo are hurling any attack they can at the protests. Yes, some of the people involved in Occupy Wall Street are socialists. Yes, unions have been playing an increasingly helpful behind-the-scenes role supporting the protests. But they don't want to destroy America and our economy. Like the millions of small business owners, men and women of the military, parents, recent college grads, retirees, construction workers, police officers and public school teachers, everyone involved with Occupy Wall Street up close or supporting it from afar simply want our nation to live up to its original promise --- liberty and justice for all.
Those who would have you think that Stephen Lerner is un-American for proposing non-violent, civil disobedience against runaway greed and inequality not only fail to understand the history of our nation and the meaning of democracy but, frankly, want to stop you from seeing the truth about Occupy Wall Street, forming your own opinions and finding your own voice. That is truly un-American.