The critics of OWS like to assume, as I was doing up until recently, that an agenda is a good thing. You need to know what your goal is, I would have said, before going out and making yourself heard. Else, why bother? But a focus can be twisted, can become something that tramples over people, rather than supporting them in their anger–witness Russia in 1917, where rage against the state was hijacked into the agenda of what had been a small cadre of true believers.
There’s something wrong in America, something inherently unAmerican, when the wealth of the richest 1% doubles over 30 years and the wealth of the rest decreases. Expression of that doesn’t require a goal or a plan.
Peter Finch’s character Howard Beale, in the 1976 movie Network, incites people to lean out their windows and yell, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” That was comedy but, like all good comedy, is contains truth, and the truth has come home today, in OWS and all the other outpourings worldwide (for the something wrong in America relates to something wrong everywhere else, as well).
What might the result be? Well, if the Russian aristocracy had been able to understand, somewhere around 1915, that having it all and leaving the vast majority nothing was a recipe for disaster–for their own deaths–perhaps they would have abandoned their unsustainable system in favor of one that provided room for everyone, and not just the elite, to prosper. Maybe, just maybe, the 1% in America today, faced with OWS, can recognize that they, too, face eventual destruction–unless they become a little less grasping and a little more concerned for the broader community.
There were groups talking about all sorts of things in the park yesterday (I listened in mostly to ones on education), with no attempt to focus them into a single force. That’s good. Right now, as Occupy events grow in size and frequency, the diffused message that something is wrong becomes clearer and clearer. Eventually, it might even become clear enough for our politicians and billionaires, clear enough so that they will begin to respond.
In one version of his “Talkin’ Dust Bowl,” Woody Guthrie ends with:
But that was mighty thin stew.
And I have always believed
That if that stew had been just a little bit thinner,
Some of our Senators coulda seen through it.
The OWS people don’t need to be any clearer; the people in power simply need to learn how to see.