Occupy Main Street

By Mickey Friedman
October 6, 2011

There’s nothing like leaving home to help you see what’s happening at home. I just spent two glorious weeks in the Costa Rican rain forest trying my very best to do nothing but look for monkeys in the trees.

Costa Rica - Photo: Mickey Friedman

While I was away some folks decided to Occupy Wall Street. Not my choice for a social revolution/camp-out but then I spent some years working on nearby West Street and found the area cold and forbidding.

There’s the obvious symbol of occupying the center of American business, but in my day Wall Street wasn’t a place ordinary people went to.

Anyway I’m sure you won’t be surprised to read that I’m thrilled to see young people in the streets. I suggest we all Occupy Main Street.

Of course, they’re being criticized. I especially like the criticism that the protestors haven’t come up with one single, simple demand/slogan for the media. Even the well-traveled portrait artist of global injustice, Nicholas Kristof, whose work I greatly admire, found it necessary to lob a cheap shot, then offer some condescending help in his October 1, 2011 New York Times column:

Where the movement falters is in its demands: It doesn’t really have any. The participants pursue causes that are sometimes quixotic — like the protester who calls for removing Andrew Jackson from the $20 bill because of his brutality to American Indians. So let me try to help.

Chart: Mother Jones Magazine


Anyone who has ever organized or participated in a demonstration knows that unless you intend to censor everyone, and squelch every bit of spontaneity, you can’t control what some people will do or say or what signs they’ll bring. And the fact is President Jackson, a slaveholder, did force the relocation of thousands of Native Americans.

Mr. Kristof’s suggested demands, including a tax on financial transactions, closing tax loopholes, and limiting the ability of banks “to engage in risky” investments are worthy but terribly limited reforms.

Kristof writes:

I don’t share the anti-market sentiments of many of the protesters … Much of the sloganeering at “Occupy Wall Street” is pretty silly — but so is the self-righteous sloganeering of Wall Street itself. And if a ragtag band of youthful protesters can help bring a dose of accountability and equity to our financial system, more power to them.

If only a “dose of accountability and equity” was all we needed.

By highlighting the gross inequality of life in America today, the world of 1% versus 99%, and the immense gap between the fabulously wealthy and the rest of us, the demonstrators are clearly asking for transformative change, adjustments far more dramatic than the reforms Kristof has suggested.

Chart: Mother Jones Magazine

Like many responsible critics of the status quo, Mr. Kristof still wants or needs to believe that the market works. It has for him. Yes, there are problems, but a bank reform here, a new tax there, will fix the machine and we’ll all be able to move ahead together.

But that’s nonsense. We have massive structural unemployment. We have a war machine that feeds on three wars. Corporate money poisons our politics. It grows more difficult each day to get older, to live modestly, to find a decent job. Young people graduate college with enormous debt and dwindling possibilities. Ask any intelligent penguin or turtle and they’ll tell you the market is destroying the earth.

Chart: Mother Jones Magazine

Why criticize the young people occupying Wall Street for not being able to decide whether to focus on the lack of jobs, the absence of affordable health care, or adequate housing, or the criminal diversion of billions from government services to unwinnable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? What really is the right answer to the question of why 1% of the American people are doing so well while the 99% find it harder and harder to get by?

It would be great to have a nifty Occupy slogan. Like Nike’s “Just Do It!” Or Burger King’s “Home of the Whopper.”

Luckily, Monday’s New York Daily News reports that Workhouse, a self-described one-stop New York City ad shop, is working on the messaging problem pro bono. Workhouse boasts on its website that “whether you’re Fortune 500 or a boutique enterprise, Workhouse will create a customized package that fulfills your corporate vision.”

I’m thinking Occupy Wall Street is more of a boutique enterprise. Hopefully Nicholas Kristof will be happy with what Workhouse comes up with. It’s got to be better than “Lenoxology.”

It’s comforting to remember Workhouse created Festa Macaroni, a special event to help Francis Ford Coppola launch his Mammarella organic pastas and red sauce.

Quite frankly, this occupying and Kristof and Workhouse stuff is confusing after two weeks of living within a rain forest, driving dirt roads, past modest shacks, and watching a monkey dance on a palm tree.

It’s enough to send me back to Costa Rica. But in the meantime it’s got me thinking about Occupying Main Street.

“Occupy Main Street” first appeared in The Berkshire Record, October 6, 2011

If you’re interested, please consider participating in:

“From Wall Street to Main Street!”

Let’s show our solidarity for #OccupyWallStreet and #OccupyBoston and all the other people, young and old, who are coming together in this “American Autumn” to work for transformative change.

We’ll hold a peaceful, upbeat rally along the street outside of Great Barrington Town Hall on Sunday, October 9 from 1:00pm to 3:00pm.

Bring signs, balloons, drums, whatever you need to add energy and momentum to this growing movement.


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