THE MAINE DEBATE

‘Occupy’ movement’s moment

Posted Nov. 28, 2011, at 5:47 p.m.

The impending winter and diminishing patience of municipal officials from New York and Oakland to Portland and Bangor are conspiring to evict the Occupy Wall Street protesters from public parks as November turns to December.

Whether the protesters are able to successfully assert their First Amendment rights to assemble or whether they are removed forcibly is a struggle that cuts to the core of American constitutional values. But in some ways, it is of less importance than the impact protesters have left on the political landscape.

Join us here at the Maine Debate to sort out the OWS movement beginning at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

Making sense of the movement from the linear political spectrum, which most of us fall back on to judge such things, is not useful. The Fox News faithful ridicule the protesters as dirty, scruffy, whiny ne’er-do-wells who are too comfortable with hedonistic gatherings such as Woodstock to have a legitimate gripe about economic injustice. Of course, progressive Mother Jones subscribers were just as dismissive of the tea party movement, deriding its adherents as bigoted, gun-toting government-haters who mistook government action aimed at holding off a depression as a socialistic revolution.

Both the OWS and tea party movements can be understood as apolitical expressions of outrage born of the same state of affairs.

The nation teetered on the brink of another Great Depression, and though the economy did not fall into the chasm, it stumbled and fell close to the edge. Some older Americans, who rely or will soon rely on the stability of Social Security and Medicare, cost of living and taxes, were understandably spooked by the federal government’s bold actions: bailing out banks, bailing out automakers and stimulating the economy, all on borrowed money. And in the midst of it all came an overhaul of the way health care insurance is regulated.

Thus was born the tea party movement, calling for a return to government restraint and frugality.

Some in the younger generation saw the same bailouts and stagnant economy and also were spooked. But it was the lack of accountability for those who caused the near crash that drove their outrage. This group believes government can be a force for good, and now feels betrayed that it did not punish the speculators who caused the recession. And their closer look at government revealed that many policies favor the wealthiest individuals and corporations at the expense of the middle class and those trying to enter it.

Thus was born the OWS movement.

There is precedent for both movements. And there is precedent for movements that are essentially apolitical. The people who risked their lives and endured beatings, harassment and arrests in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s may have voted for candidates who agreed with their views. But their focus was on changing policymakers’ perception about segregation and discrimination. They did.

If the OWS movement has succeeded, it is by inserting the 99-percent, 1-percent economic divide into the national debate about economic policy.

Conservative, supply-side adherents argue the 1 percent should be protected from new taxes because they are job creators and because they pay the largest share of the tax burden. Progressive supporters of government intervention argue public policy should be tilted back toward sustaining and growing the middle class. This an important discussion, for which we should thank OWS.

Join us Tuesday to continue the discussion.

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