Piddler on the Roof

Posted: Dec 06, 2011 12:01 AM

This column was co-authored by Bob Morrison

Over the weekend, Metropolitan Police removed Occupy DC protesters from “a barn-like structure” a few blocks from the White House. More than thirty arrests were made, including one young man who was charged with indecent exposure for urinating from the roof.

Occupy DC protesters have been squatting in McPherson Park, in the middle of one of Washington’s key commercial and government hubs, since October. And what have they achieved?

They say they want to draw attention to income inequality. They have. We all now know that they claim to represent the 99% against the income gains of the 1%. They say they want a more open, more democratic government.

Occupods—as one radio talker calls them--seem to find President Obama’s administration insufficiently socialist. A few Occupy Wall Streeters even protested, albeit feebly, the president’s fund-raising trip to Manhattan last week. It seems to have dawned on some of them that even Mr. Obama’s “spread the wealth around” policies have not lifted their particular boats.

Despite having nationalized banks, insurance companies, automakers, the health care system, and student loans, the Obama administration has proved unable to brighten the prospects of these young protesters. We know Mr. Obama doesn’t like Winston Churchill. An economy in the doldrums may be one reason why. “Capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings,” Churchill once said, “and socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.”

Well, not all Occupods want to share equally. When generous donors delivered food to the Occupy Wall Street contingent a few weeks back, one of the youthful Occupods was incensed that the homeless guys crowded in to claim a share. “Hey, they have no right to our stuff!” After all, we are busy squatting on our butts, chanting, and making speeches against the system. We worked for that stuff.

But isn’t a claim to other people’s “stuff” the whole point of the Occupy movement? They dismiss the idea that you ought to work for your stuff. They don’t like an economy that rewards you for effort and not for just standing on the roof piddling.

That “barn-like structure” line is instructive. To urban cowboys, to Occupy DCers, and the mainstream media, that building may look like a barn. And some media outlets have even called the erection of that structure “a barn raising,” but it is anything but.

America’s barns are full this year as a result of hard work on the farms. Once a major voting bloc, farmers are largely ignored by the media and politicians. One major difference between the recent Thanksgiving and that of 1932, in the depths of the Great Depression, is the availability of plentiful food. America’s rich harvests do not come from those protesting.

“Raise less corn and more hell,” one prairie populist, Mary Lease, exhorted farmers in the 1870s. She was known as the Kansas pythoness in those days before women’s suffrage made such references to a woman’s sex politically incorrect. Pythoness or not, Mary Lease could probably not approve of today’s play-acting “barn raisings.” She demanded redress of real grievances.

If the Occupiers really want to change the system, they should use the political system to achieve hope and change. They could leave their ramshackle, barn-like structures and get involved in the primary and caucus process. Since they seem to be determined to re-live the Sixties, maybe they could “get clean for Gene” or somebody.

In 1968, long-haired youth shaved and spruced up to hit the campaign trail in New Hampshire, determined to drive Lyndon B. Johnson from office. They rallied behind the unlikely candidacy of U.S. Sen. Eugene McCarthy (D-Minn.) In a way, they succeeded. LBJ dropped out of the race after winning the New Hampshire Democratic primary—but seeing McCarthy’s 42% showing as a sign of sure defeat in the fall.

So why not mount a challenge in the primaries? If Vermont’s socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders is unwilling, perhaps they could entice former Sen. Russ Feingold into entering the fray. Or former Labor Sec. Robert Reich? Maybe, even, Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman? There’s always Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio). Now that he’s announced his retirement from the House, might Congressman Barney Frank be persuaded?

The “Occupy” movement has worn out its welcome. And its usefulness—even to the Left. Such a diffuse, undisciplined, piddling effort can achieve little unless it has a focus, a clearly understood goal. In 1968, the Left wanted Lyndon Johnson out. They achieved that, even at the cost of getting Nixon in. They rallied to the Obama banner in 2008 and enjoyed an electoral sweep. They enacted much of their agenda, and the stalled economy is the result. Perhaps if they took their cause to the people, through open and democratic elections, they could strike a responsive chord among the 99%. It would certainly be better than cheering a piddler on the roof.

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