Occupy Wall Street is the most significant social movement in this country since the anti-Vietnam war protests of the 60s. And the authorities must feel threatened since they're overreacting in the same ways: head bashings, arbitrary arrests, tear gas — the only difference is the storm trooper outfits.
Oh, the outfits! There's a certain unity in having matching outfits. And when you dress all the cops like storm troopers, they'll start acting like storm troopers. I think it's only a matter of time before someone gets killed. Yes, we've armed them with so-called "non-lethal" weapons — tasers, clubs, pepper spray — but this just makes the police less reluctant to use violence against the demonstrators.
Why do the powers-that-be feel so threatened by Occupy Wall Street? Because the occupiers are pressing for significant social change. They want bankers jailed (i.e., held accountable) for the near-meltdown of the economy. And they want redistribution of wealth. They see the obvious — and are pointing it out to the rest of the country — that the 1% control a disproportionate share of the wealth of this country, while the rest of us are suffering reduced wages , unemployment, and shrinking opportunity.
But the 1% naturally want to protect the status quo. For them — low tax rates, low wages, and the ability to outsource production to even lower-wage countries is a God-send. For Wall-Streeters, the ability to continue to gamble with other people's money (i.e., your money, if your retirement fund owns stocks, if you have a mortgage, or even if you just have an account in a major bank) without supervision or regulation is a gambler's paradise! Large bets on derivatives, hedges, or tranches of securitized mortgages. And if you get in trouble, the government bails you out! You never go to jail!
During the economic expansion between 2002 and 2007, the income of the top 1% grew 10 times faster than the income of the bottom 90%. In this period 66% of total income gains went to the 1%, who in 2007 had a larger share of total income than at any time since 1928.
And if protesters show up on your doorstep, your allies — the politicians you've bought and paid for — call out the troops. And they bash some heads.
Change in this country comes slowly — or not at all. Especially change from below that threatens the wealthy and the powerful. And some folks just hunker down, afraid of change, and afraid of not-change. Afraid of the disruption that change might bring, and afraid of the consequences of not-change as well.
But there's trouble, right here in River City — everyone senses it. Some react by trying to change the system (OWS, environmentalists, etc.). Others react by siding with their wealthy oppressors (Tea Baggers, climate change deniers, etc.). And the 1% are willing to spend huge sums to push back change. Witness the sums being spend in this election cycle. The anti-change forces will spend more than ever before.
And more than ever before, we need change. People sense it. The young especially. This is what OWS is about — change — and that's why it seems so threatening, and hopeful. And a little ambiguous, as well, since it's hard to agree on all the changes that need to be made. But there are lots.