It's very en vogue at the moment to offer advice to Occupy Wall Street. This advice takes all forms – as the song goes, some kind of help is the kind of help that help is all about, and some kind of help is the kind of help we all could do without – but I, as a Wall Street occupier, feel as though I ought to do some advising of my own:
Dear Democratic Party,
Cave into pressure from us.
Do it. Go whole hog with it. Now is your moment. You have never had the type of political cover you have now, and you never will again. Stick a big middle finger up in the direction of Wall Street, fire your revolving-door-begotten staffers, declare yourself now and forever the party of working people, and be done with it.
It wasn't until the Reagan era that the Democrats decided to delve into the murky swamps of extreme corporatism, a move designed to yield its eventual result: the attainment of fundraising parity with the GOP. Is it safe to assume that a lot of Democrats, a good number of whom are probably quite progressive at heart, wish they didn't have to raise funds from Wall Street and would relish the opportunity presented by moving money out of politics? One has to raise a lot of money to be competitive, and the first order of business ought to be ensuring that the rules of elections do not incentivize selling out. But in the meantime, ride our wave, Democrats.
You will be seen as hypocritical, and this assertion will be just. After all, you spent the first few years of this global economic crisis letting Wall Street sweethearts do whatever they felt like doing with the American economy. Sweethearts like Tim Geithner, whom bankers call “our man in Washington.” Sweethearts like Larry Summers, whose major career achievement is deregulating the derivatives market in the 1990s. Sweethearts like Chris Dodd, whose top three lifetime contributors were, in ascending order, the American Bankers Association, JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America, before he retired. Sweethearts like Barney Frank, whose top staffer, Michael Paese, cashed out after writing the “financial regulation reform” bill by becoming director of governmental affairs at Goldman Sachs.
But hypocrisy is not as bad as depravity, and that is where things stand now. It is also better than abject servility – who but a party of masochists would continue groveling before Wall Street, which has abandoned you? President Obama, who, in 2004, took in more than ten times from Goldman Sachs what President Bush had taken in from Enron, is hemorrhaging banker support to Mitt Romney anyway – corrupt financial bigwigs are reportedly seething with fury at the Democrats who've had nice things to say about Occupy Wall Street. They're not supporting you, Democrats, so you're not getting anything out of supporting them. Support us, instead.
Look: President Johnson did not run on the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts. The people marching from Selma to Montgomery and their brothers and sisters rising up everywhere – and often taking severe beatings for it – are the ones that forced Johnson's hand. As the president dedicates a memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesse Jackson helps save Occupy Wall Street's medical tent from police usurpation, our minds turn to the civil rights movement and the march on Washington in 1963. The speech we must remember from that occasion is not the reverend's dream, but the angry young man's censored admonition. John Lewis, now a Democratic Congressman who wholeheartedly supports Occupy Wall Street, was then the youngest speaker on the slate – the same age as many of us at Liberty Plaza Park. His speech included this:
To those who have said, “Be patient and wait,” we must say that “patience” is a dirty and nasty word. We cannot be patient, we do not want to be free gradually. We want our freedom, and we want it now. We cannot depend on any political party, for both the Democrats and the Republicans have betrayed the basic principles of the Declaration of Independence.
So, whose side will you be on, Democrats? There is a lot of concern at Liberty Plaza that you (and your de facto activist wing, MoveOn) are trying to co-opt our movement, notably raising funds for yourselves by dropping our name. This is a fool's errand – we are, in principle, not co-optable. Instead, acquiesce to us. Take a look at all the advice we're getting about what sorts of legislation to demand, and you demand them instead. After all, you're the ones whose job it is to make policy, not us. Our job is to make you make policy by creating a crisis. Well, here's the crisis. What are you going to do about it?
You can lose – and if you stick by Wall Street, you will lose really, really badly – or you can take the best shot you've got. Expel Bill Daley and Gene Sperling and the rest of them, push for radical change, regard the 1 percent with contempt, and stand with us. There is no shame in caving to popular social movements – that is called “democracy.” There is only shame in caving to the will of the tiny minority whose job it is abuse and exploit everyone else.
Are you at least tempted?